I never thought I’d be taking so much hope from a trashing of Samoa. A year ago this would’ve been so expected it could threaten to be boring. What we got instead was a game of the utmost importance for a multitude of reasons, and a performance that delivered on that importance. You might think me crazy(er). You might think me foolish but hear me now believe me later – this might actually happen.
Of course I’m not saying that just because we beat a T2 nation who have been mostly underwhelming in this competition. What I am saying though is that this team has their mojo back, for the second time this World Cup, and sport is not as simple as “bad game followed by good game followed by bad game” etc. After the Scotland game we had reason to believe, Ireland looked bloody good and the Scots are not held try-less easily. The Japan game now has a whole new look to after seeing what they did to Scotland and I’m still in the “the HUMIDITY, THE HUMIDITY!” camp as far as the Russia game goes. What I’m trying to say is that the supposed inconsistency Ireland have show in this World Cup maybe needs to all be put in perspective now that we are where we are.
I have been one of those slightly odd folks that has said since the opening ceremony that I reckon Ireland have a better shout against the All Blacks. I wasn’t buying into the whole concept that they are out of form due to two games in The Rugby Championship, no, I was scared of South Africa. Ireland’s recent record against the Springboks is pretty good. Two hammering in Dublin in 2014 and 2017 whilst Ireland also picked up a first ever win on South African soil whilst down to 14 men for most of the game in 2016 but that was a very different South Africa. Since Rassie Erasmus has taken the reigns he’s rolling in the changes, and Ireland have not played them since. To take nothing away from Steven Hansen, I’d sooner pit the rugby brain of Joe Schmidt up against him rather than Erasmus. Furthermore there is the added spice of Erasmus taking other staff from his time coaching Munster with him, namely Felix Jones. Schmidt broke character in one of his recent press appearances and confirmed that he is anxious about how much insider info Jones has on the Irish setup. It was extremely surprising to hear him say this and one can only assume that Jones got the full immersion treatment when he joined the Ireland tour for a week back in 2017.
No somehow I’m actually more optimistic about our chances against the All Blacks. Recent history speaks volumes. Schmidt has coached Ireland against New Zealand four times and won twice. In that match (that allegedly happened but for the life of me I just can’t remember it for some strange reason) in November 2013 Ireland had them beaten too save for the fact that New Zealand just wouldn’t let it die. That’s two wins and a close as hell run affair, plus the return fixture loss in 2016, not to mention the 2017 Lions tour also. Key to all these victories? Defence. Even the 2016 win in Chicago where Ireland leaked 4 tries, their defence was outstanding. Huge moments from Andrew Trimble in particular out on the right wing stopped at least one if not two certain scores. If there’s one thing that has remained consistent for Ireland in this World Cup it’s their defence. Only two tries conceded and both of them came from great amounts of pressure. The Samoa try would definitely irk them more though and to be honest I cannot recall the last time a team managed such an easy push over try from a maul against Ireland. All in all, they have the defence to win this.
I don’t say this to knock them in any way or for that matter to sound blisteringly obvious but – New Zealand win by scoring tries. A lot. When is the last time you saw a nervy encounter won by them from the boot? Much was made of Beauden Barret and the lack of drop goals to his name until last November. It’s not that they can’t do that if needed but they generally don’t need to. It won’t be the sole winning of this game but if Ireland can shut them out the same way they did last year, it will irritate the Kiwis just enough that Ireland will have a screw to turn.
For all the belief around this game I do agree that the All Blacks are still a lethal side. If Ireland go down by 7 or more points at any stage the game may very well get away from them. On the other hand I just don’t see that happening. The Dublin fixture in 2016 is the only time that Ireland have spent with a deficit of more than 5 points against New Zealand in the last 6 years. Defences win games at this level, doubly so in knock out rugby. Ireland’s has been superb. God help me for saying this but…Ireland can win this.