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Ireland v New Zealand: All Blacks will offer more than the Haka

By Michael Sadlier

So, the All Blacks are back and suddenly everything gets that little bit more serious and edgy.

It's so much more than the mystique of the black-shirted Haka-obsessed ones that makes everybody sit up and notice, it's the way they play the game and the manner in which they ruthlessly go about their business.

The All Blacks provide the progressive template from which most must try to follow in some shape or other.

As for their tours, they are so well choreographed that you feel they could perform their functions both on and off the pitch while virtually half awake.

Away from the game they are masters of diplomacy. Earlier this week, in Dublin, there were photo opportunities galore of them relaxing and playing football with Richie McCaw, Dan Carter et al radiating good humour.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith then performed the time-honoured duty of talking up Ireland with glowing references to Brian O’Driscoll’s still powerful skills-set and how well 14-man Ireland came back against them last June before eventually coming in a distant second in the ultimate 66-28 scoreline.

Not to be outdone, centre Conrad Smith — who managed two tries against Ireland in New Plymouth on that June occasion — then did something similar telling all around him that, yes, O’Driscoll is still world class and a great guy to have a beer with.

Both also chipped in with the point that they reckon Ireland will be an entirely different animal than the one on show against both South Africa and Samoa; oh and, of course, they will hardly be just as easy to see off as Scotland proved to be when the All Black machine hit overdrive in their 49-3 Murrayfield romp.

McCaw — who along with Mils Muliaina wins a 93rd cap tomorrow to become the All Blacks’ record cap holders — also weighed in with his tuppence worth, ensuring that it was known that there is no issue between himself and Jamie Heaslip following the Irish number eight's sending off last June for unleashing his knee on the (as ever) offside Kiwi flanker.

Even though the World Cup is the ultimate and only real goal to be striven for, another failure is unthinkable for the rugby obsessed nation especially in front of their own fans. New Zealand are not here just to be complimentary and then go through the motions on the park.

Graham Henry’s squad, which dominated the Tri Nations, are still smarting from losing to Australia in Hong Kong just before this tour began but their immediate goal is still intact.

They badly want to become only the fourth Kiwi side to complete the Grand Slam by beating all the home nations and, if successful, the third time it's happened on Henry’s watch. They look in good shape to achieve it.

With Keven Mealamu still serving his ban for striking Lewis Moody, they may not quite be at full strength but are hardly undermined.

Yes, they do have weaknesses, it's just that finding them and then successfully exploiting them that prove so elusive.

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