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Defeat to Irish will simply not be accepted, reveals superstar Kieran Read

It is one of the few times this year that Kieran Read – irrefutably rugby's stellar performer in 2013 – has been stopped in his tracks.

When we ask him to explain just why it is that the All Blacks remain so serenely supreme, the imminent IRB Player of the Year must pause for reflection.

Little wonder. For when an All Black reflects on the personal domination that drives him towards the quest for greatness, he does so with the weight of an expectant nation upon his shoulders.

Meanwhile, across town, Irish players are busily embracing the tag of underdogs with the glee of a child embracing their favourite teddy bear.

Just one of the many differences that separate the extraordinary from the ordinary.

"For us," explains Read, "it is about something which is much bigger than the game, much more important than the players or the team. It is about a whole country.

"It is based upon a rich tradition and culture stretching back over a century, and it is that history which forces each and every one of us to maximise our potential as All Black players.

"It's a lot for people to live up to, all that pressure and expectation. But it is something which is always ingrained in you as an All Black. You're reminded of it every day.

"It's the way we've been brought up as players. And it's the way that our nation has become accustomed to."

It is suffocating at times. Last winter – their summer – the All Blacks returned home from England to a wounded nation after suffering their solitary defeat in an otherwise blemish-free run of 34 Test matches.

It was as if somebody pointed at the Sistine Chapel and suggested to Michelangelo that he had painted the sky with the wrong shade of blue.

"It was a tougher time than normal for us certainly," admits Read ruefully, as one defeat stood starkly apart despite all the wondrous successes of a side who remain world champions and have been ranked No 1 for four years.

"That's all the people were talking about back home. It reminds you clearly just what their expectation is. It's a new challenge for us this time around and we are working hard to achieve it.

"We'll make sure this time not to go home with that feeling."

Losing to a team to whom they have never succumbed would rock the country to its very core.

"It's understood," Read says bluntly, when the issue of Ireland's fallow record against the men in black is concerned.

"It comes down to those expectations again. Only a few sides haven't tasted victory against us and we are all aware that Ireland is one of those.

"And we want to make sure that none of us are part of a team that eventually happens to."

Even Read's own family contribute to the constant pressure.

Read's father emails his son regularly, but often in a seemingly pithy manner. His latest missal was curt and abruptly to the point.

"You're only as good as your last effort," he wrote.

"It just focuses my mind on my own job and what I need to do," Read smiles.

Even within the prism of world domination, the All Blacks still strive for an even greater excellence as they plan to retain their World Cup in two years' time.

It is not enough for them to topple opponents. They aim to do so with a flourish.

To their credit, or perhaps they are merely being politely diplomatic, they don't expect Ireland – defeated 32-15 by Australia – to abase their accepted standards of performance for a second successive weekend.

"I don't think they were happy with the way they turned up," says Read with a significant dollop of under-statement.

"They're a much better side than that. And we expect a completely different team to turn up."

The problem for Ireland is that New Zealand will turn up in exactly the same fettle as they do for all their Test engagements.

The secret of their success is that there is no secret.

Belfast Telegraph


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