Friday June 11, 2010
Confidence and aggression are the key buzzwords for the All Blacks as Ireland's rugby squad took umbrage at bold claims their forwards were set to be dominated tomorrow.
As the shadow of Sonny Bill Williams loomed over the buildup to the test here, it was all about a fiery forward battle which was spiced up by returning All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen.
He laid down a marker by predicting his aggressive forward pack including five Crusaders were ready to "physically dominate" their Irish opponents.
Captain Richie McCaw also weighed in today as both sides completed their buildup at a fine but rain-soaked Yarrow Stadium.
"You've got to be confident, definitely, but we're against a pack that probably thinks exactly the same," he said.
"There's a few guys who have played a number of tests so we'll have to work pretty hard to get everything right to do that. There's no reason why we can't."
Visiting captain Brian O'Driscoll was trying to shake off dizzy spells which saw him miss today's light session, but he was confident of being fit.
Hansen's comments provided some more headaches and were noted in the Irish camp, particularly among veteran tight forwards John Hayes, Mick O'Driscoll and Donncha O'Callaghan.
"Certainly if someone makes mention of a midfield pairing getting the better of myself and (Gordon) D'Arcy, you always keep that in the back of your mind and try to use it as motivation," Brian O'Driscoll said.
The All Blacks' fire and brimstone starts in the front row with brothers Ben and Owen Franks, who usurped incumbent props Tony Woodcock and Neemia Tialata on excellent Super 14 form.
With a combined nine tests, all to Owen Franks, they will be the least-capped All Blacks propping duo since John Afoa and Saimone Taumoepeau against Scotland in 2005.
Other debutants Benson Stanley and Israel Dagg feature in the backline, with the 22-year-old Dagg looking an outstanding prospect who impressed at trainings this week.
Strong debuts from both will make it interesting at the selection table for Wales in Dunedin, when Richard Kahui and Mils Muliaina will likely be available after playing a Hamilton club match tomorrow.
"Israel is a very, very good player and we can see him putting some major pressure on Mils which would be great," Hansen said.
The hosts were intent on seizing the early initiative after they were outmuscled in last year's opener against France, and struggled to keep pace with the Springboks amid regularly sluggish starts.
Another spotlight is on All Blacks pivot Dan Carter after a forgettable Super 14. He sits six short of 1000 points in his 67th test and his skipper had no doubt he would fire again.
"He's pretty keen to get out there and play and direct things around like we know he can. I'm sure he's going to have a good one, and he's got a lot of guys helping him," McCaw said.
Both sides will need to adjust to English referee Wayne Barnes who will put forward his interpretations of the new breakdown laws and may get a frosty reception from the Taranaki crowd.
Ireland not only have 105 years of history to battle as they seek an elusive first victory over the All Blacks in their 23rd meeting. Their most recent match in New Zealand two years ago was a 21-11 home win on an arctic Wellington night.
Their buildup has been hardly ideal, with their second-stringers losing 29-23 to the Barbarians in Limerick on Saturday morning (NZT) before a 30-hour journey.
There are 10 changes with experience dotted throughout the side; Ronan O'Gara, D'Arcy and O'Driscoll anchoring a useful backline and a tough pack with abrasive loosies David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip.
But they are missing injured first choice forwards Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and Rory Best and haven't reached the heights of their 2009 grand slam.
Coach Declan Kidney felt it was only a matter of time before they broke their New Zealand duck.
"It's going to happen some time. I have huge confidence in Irish players, that's why I took the job. No matter which Irish players roll up I know they will give it everything," Kidney said.