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Jonathan Bradley: New Zealand will relish exacting brutal revenge on worthy rivals Ireland when it matters most


Tough challenge: New Zealand skipper Kieran Read insists he has plenty of respect for Ireland
Tough challenge: New Zealand skipper Kieran Read insists he has plenty of respect for Ireland
Beauden Barrett
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

From the moment the 1905 'Original All Blacks' and their Donegal-born captain Davy Gallaher set sail for the northern hemisphere and saw off a much-fancied Devon in their first tour game, match weeks against rugby's most dominant side have had a different feel to others.

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The buzz is greater, a sense that you are never more than 80 minutes from a game that could go down in history. And while the opposition bringing that each and every time is part and parcel of being an All Black, there is a sense that this is a different week for them too.

When suffering a defeat - such as their last at the hands of the Wallabies over the summer - retribution is often swift and largely merciless.

That 14-man loss at the hands of Michael Cheika's men took just seven days to avenge, done so in emphatic fashion with a 36-0 domination.

Ireland have experienced it too, of course, their maiden victory in Chicago lasting considerably longer in the memory than the brutal fashion in which the back-to-back world champions returned to winning ways two weeks later.

For a side who takes losing like no other, both inside the team room and among the wider populace, the 11 months' worth of musings that, having lost two of their last three to Joe Schmidt's side, Ireland may just have their number no doubt grates.

It's not so long ago - just three years in fact - that the now-Ulster prop Jack McGrath sat at a press conference in Trump Towers and was confused with Rory Best by the Kiwi media. There was a time when it seemed New Zealand knew Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien and not much more.

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Now there's a shift. Ireland have become a team seen as worthy of their attention.

For example, when talking about Bundee Aki's suspension, Sonny Bill Williams was asked about Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw but namechecked Chris Farrell too. The anonymity is gone. As Schmidt noted wryly yesterday, Ireland are not a team that can sneak up on his homeland any more.

Gone are the days when the challenge of facing Ireland for the All Blacks was a case of weathering the initial high intensity, low-execution charge from the gate before the inevitable fade to the finish.

Forwards coach Simon Easterby was even asked how he felt about his side's 16-9 win last year, when the visitors to Dublin were held without a try, forcing the All Blacks into the tactical switch that saw Beauden Barrett moved to full-back as both he and Richie Mo'unga start once again in Tokyo Stadium tomorrow.

And while he batted away that assertion, throughout the rest of the week there has been a sense of little love lost between the two coaching tickets.

From the subplot of the professional rivalry between head coaches Schmidt and Steve Hansen - "They're good at what they know they're good at, they don't wander too much off the script," Hansen damned with faint praise yesterday - to Ian Foster's reaction to a question over Andy Farrell, there's been a degree of tetchiness to pressers featuring such a large focus on the opposition.

Farrell has a better record against them than any other of late, his past 12 contests over the course of England, Ireland and Lions duty bringing a record of four wins and a draw.

"You'd have to ask Andy that," replied the attack coach when asked what it was about Ireland's next head coach that posed his side problems.

For a side who famously set their focus inward, questions on the opposition have been more prevalent than they'd like.

"We know how close the games have been over the last few years and it's an exciting challenge," said captain Kieran Read. "The fun part is Saturday, so really looking forward to it.

"You know the Irish are a really good side. Perhaps they haven't played to their potential through this World Cup, but in a World Cup game it's whoever turns up on the day, and it could only be a couple of opportunities that present themselves for either side.

"We respect what the Irish team has done over those couple of games but it's a totally different ball game heading into this one. It's two teams ranked very highly, good sides, and it's about turning up on the day. We take lessons from those games and we need to be a lot better than what we were."

With both those past losses coming at the end of long Super Rugby seasons, there's little doubt that, even if they've had to wait almost a year, the Kiwis would relish exacting their revenge on the stage where it matters to them most.

Belfast Telegraph


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