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Ireland aiming for history against All Blacks

By Gavin Mairs

Ireland's two-Test tour of New Zealand and Australia should serve two purposes.

The first, obviously enough, is to try to win one or even both games not only to create history (Ireland have never beaten New Zealand in 103 years of competitive fixtures and haven't won in Australia since 1979), but also to improve Ireland's IRB World Rankings.

Since the disasters of the World Cup and the Six Nations Championship, Ireland currently lie in eighth place, with Fiji, Scotland and Italy breathing down their necks and for the first time the rankings will be used when the draw for the 2011 World Cup is made in December.

Should Ireland, who also face a tough autumn schedule including matches against New Zealand again and Ireland's World Cup nemesis Argentina after the clash against Canada, slip out of the top eight, they will once again be landed with a pool of death as they will be guaranteed to face two of the top eight sides in their pool which they could do without.

But in many ways the second goal of this trip is of equal importance, and that is for interim coach Michael Bradley to breath life back into a side that has lost its way and retreated into its shell during the course of the World Cup and in the end days of the Eddie O'Sullivan reign in the Six Nations.

This must be coupled with the rebuilding phase which should have begun immediately after the World Cup flop but was wastefully delayed by the IRFU by first waiting for the Genesis Report and then for O'Sullivan to fall on his sword.

The first signs of a swagger returning to the side could be seen in the 39-14 victory over an albeit decidedly loose Barbarians side.

Allied with Munster's magnificent Heineken Cup triumph in the final over Toulouse and a genuine sense of a feel-good factor has accompanied the squad to Wellington, where they prepared for today's Test against the All Blacks at the Westpac Stadium.

Bradley must build on that before Declan Kidney takes over as full-time coach.

It is unfortunate that gifted young centre Luke Fitzgerald missed out on today's match with New Zealand although it did give Ulster's Paddy Wallace the chance to show what he could do.

It is hoped that Bradley will allow the players to express themselves, even given the daunting circumstances.

O'Sullivan's era eventually unravelled when his top-down constricted game plan ran into a brick way.

Ireland showed encouraging glimpses of a more heads-up, off-loading and liberated game against the Baa-Baas.

Taking the game to the likes of New Zealand and Australia in this fashion should ensure the hand over from Bradley to Kidney goes in the right direction.

Belfast Telegraph


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