Monday, June 07, 2010

All Blacks loom as Irish arrive in the danger zone
By Joe Callaghan Auckland
Monday, June 07, 2010
AS THE Ireland squad jetted in through the South Seas squall enveloping Auckland yesterday, it was a good thing they chose Singapore Airlines rather than the country’s host carrier, Air New Zealand, for the mammoth journey.

The top sports option on this month’s in-flight TV menu with Air New Zealand is a full, unedited 80-minute re-run of the first Test between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions in 2005.

Hot on the heels of back-to-back international defeats for the first time in almost two years, the last thing Ireland players needed to see was their skipper being pummelled into the Christchurch turf.

Even on those tiny headrest screens – and five years on from the deed – the vision of Brian O’Driscoll being thrown around like a rag doll remains tough viewing.

But the 80 minutes in its entirety would have provided a pertinent reminder – were it needed – of the task facing Declan Kidney’s side this week.

There were more recent pointers too – a 2008 Tri Nations pummelling of the world champion Springboks achieved without Richie McCaw and two of last year’s three triumphs over Australia were also available to passengers.

Obviously 105 barren years of defeat also relay the sheer magnitude of Ireland’s challenge. The television advertisement promoting Saturday’s game in New Plymouth – which, incidentally, has yet to sell out – plays on that 100% record of Irish failure.

‘Some things in life are guaranteed,’ says the voiceover, as a steady stream of images of All Blacks backs scything through green backlines flash across the screen.
‘The sun rises in the east... and sets in the west. And Ireland never beat the All Blacks.’

Safe to say then, as he stepped off the plane around midnight local time last night, that Kidney would have preferred to have with him the 13 players struck down by an unprecedented injury crisis. At least there were no fresh complaints to report.

Those Ireland players that did make it here unscathed will blow off the cobwebs from Friday night’s defeat to the Barbarians – and their journey to the other side of the globe – when they take their first run out at the Mt Smart arena in Auckland’s suburbs. But even in their choice of training venue, it seems things haven’t gone Ireland’s way. Kidney and his IRFU support staff have copped significant flak for their decision not to prepare for the clash down in New Plymouth amongst the fervent Taranaki fans.

"It is a short-sighted decision on a number of fronts," said local rugby pundit Wynne Gray. "Instead of embracing the Taranaki locals, they have alienated enough of them to suggest they might switch their allegiance to the US when Ireland pitch up for their September 11 World Cup game next season.
"Had the Irish travelled there on Monday, they could have embraced the atmosphere they will seek next season, they could have connected with rugby-mad youngsters in the area. You suspect the Irish might have missed a trick here."

If that weren’t enough, Graham Henry seems intent on ensuring that the referee for Saturday’s showdown at Yarrow Stadium, Englishman Wayne Barnes, doesn’t dare give any tight calls to the visitors. Barnes will already be feeling the pressure with the Test marking the first time he has officiated here since he became Kiwi enemy No. 1 after being blamed for their 2007 world cup quarter final exit to France. And the All Blacks coach cranked up the heat by requesting a sit down with him on the eve of battle.

"I think it is going to be a challenge for the northern hemisphere refs. In the Heineken Cup they didn’t play to these laws but I think in their own competitions they may have," said Henry. "They know what laws we are playing to and hopefully they can handle it. The tackle and the scrum are going to be important."

Not a lot of cheer floating around the Auckland air amid all that rain and gale-force winds then. Let’s at least hope the TV fare aboard that Singapore Airlines plane was nice and uplifting.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, June 07, 2010

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