Ireland are taking inspiration from the under-20 team's stunning victory over South Africa in Stellenbosch ahead of Saturday's daunting showdown with the All Blacks, claiming that Mike Ruddock's young team have “shown the way.”
Ireland turned the under-20 World Cup on its head on Monday when they defeated the much bigger and heavily fancied ‘Baby Boks' and now Declan Kidney's men are hoping to achieve a similar against-the-odds result against the world champions at the iconic Eden Park on Saturday.
Team manager Mick Kearney, who worked with Ruddock as team manager for the under-20s before taking over from Paul McNaughton with the senior side, said the result in South Africa has energised the squad.
“I came down for breakfast and the first thing Brian O'Driscoll said to me was ‘what a great win for the under-20s',” said Kearney.
“The news went around the team room very quickly.
“A lot of the squad here would know the under-20 players through the provincial academies and everyone was delighted and hugely encouraged.
“To go to the Southern Hemisphere and get a win of that proportion sets a great example.
“Talking to the players today, there is a sense of inspiration at what the under-20s have achieved.”
O'Driscoll said the result awakened memories of winning the under-19 World Cup in 1998 under Kidney.
“It was inspiring stuff and brought back my own memories of playing for Ireland at underage level and the absolute pride of getting a result for your country at the highest level,” said the Ireland captain.
Kearney passed the congratulations of the senior squad on to Ruddock.
“I was on to Mike this morning and he was absolutely thrilled,” said Kearney.
“South Africa were one of the favourites, a massive, physical side. Mike was telling me this morning how he was drilling in a low tackle focus all week, chop them down.
“This achievement came down to an incredible work ethic and tremendous self-belief and they should feel extremely proud.
“It's funny, at this level South Africa tend to be a lot bigger, but then plateau whereas Irish players get bigger when they head into their 20s.
“So, that is very encouraging for the future when you think that the likes of Niall Scannell and Iain Henderson, who are already big, have more growing to do.”
Kearney believes the achievement is Ireland's greatest at underage level since that 1998 success and has provided a template for the seniors to follow now.
“It is definitely the best win by any Irish underage team since 1998,” he said.
“South Africa had a number of players with Super 15 experience in their squad and to beat them in Stellenbosch, which is viewed as the cradle of South African rugby, is a massive, massive achievement. It is an extraordinary victory and they have really shown us the way.”
Ireland will give Mike Ross every opportunity to recover in time to play on Saturday.
“He's not quite there but it's changed from yesterday,” said scrum coach Greg Feek. “I thought he was gone then but now there is a glimmer of hope.”