WE RUN the rule over New Zealand and Australia’s tests against Ireland and Wales respectively this Saturday.
ALL BLACKS v IRELAND
When: Saturday June 9, 7.35pm
Where: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Head-to-Head: Played 24, All Blacks 23, Ireland 0, Drawn 1
In Auckland: Played 2, All Blacks 2, Ireland 0
Last match: November 20, 2010: All Blacks beat Ireland 38-18 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
IRELAND, AS is often the case, is a rugby enigma.
Its Rugby World Cup hit a massive high with the 15-6 win over Australia, only to crash and burn in the quarter-finals, again, at the hands of Wales, just weeks later.
Its Six Nations campaign was up and down like a yoyo, a touch unlucky not to beat eventual champion Wales, a draw, at the second attempt, with France, a thrashing of Italy and Scotland, and rounding out with a pummelling of savage proportions by England. But it scored the most points, the most tries, and placed a deflating third.
Injuries to three key men – wing Tommy Bowe, flanker Stephen Ferris, and lock Paul O’Connell – will remove much of its cutting edge out wide and in the engine room.
Declan Kidney’s charges warmed up for the tour with an unpromising 29-28 loss to the UK Barbarians. Admittedly, no Leinster players lined up as they were still in recovery mode after being pipped by Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 final. That recovery may have included cleansing the system of Guinness after the highs of the 42-12 Heineken Cup final blowout of fellow Irishmen Ulster.
Leinster assistant coach Jono Gibbes urges caution for any fellow Kiwis who might think this series is a 3-0 lay-down misère.
“You will see on tour that they will have a good mix with some young guys coming through as well.
“The Six Nations is a good starting point to see where Ireland is at, but you work yourself back to the standard they had for that Australian game. All the talk over here was that they were disappointed at their World Cup exit, but they’ll want a bit more momentum back,” says Gibbes.
“People will respect their skillsets. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone under the high ball quite like Rob Kearney. Cian Healy is a good, powerful loosehead. He’s mobile, young, and has really developed his game. He has a big impact for us (Leinster). When he’s in sync, Ireland really go up a gear. Sean O’Brien can play all three back-row positions. He’s an abrasive guy and he will impress people.
“This will be a good test for the All Blacks, and it’s good that they are playing three tests.”
Indeed it is, the first three-test series ever between these countries. It’s a pity that no midweek games could be scheduled to give it that real tour flavour.
Much will depend on how Johnny Sexton fronts. He has done so for Leinster on countless occasions, but was off his game at the World Cup. He will be faced with Dan Carter, whose groin still appears to be troubling him but whose recent work with Crusaders indicates he is on the up.
Ireland has six new caps on tour, while the All Blacks have announced seven in their 31 to prepare for the series. Clearly not all the newbies will be involved this Saturday.
Kieran Read has overcome a busted nose and will front against the rugged Jamie Heaslip, a one-time nominee for IRB player of the year. Kiwi fans will recall Heaslip was sent off for kneeing Richie McCaw in the 2010 New Plymouth test, the last time these sides met on New Zealand soil.
No surprise then that new All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is expecting a “robust” clash.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has eagerly seized the underdog tag, though some would say that is not a stretch given Ireland has never beaten the All Blacks in tests dating back to the 1905 Originals’ tour. But the Irish have come close on occasion, notably in the 10-all draw in 1973, and in the 6-15 narrow defeat in 2002, when they might have won had Ronan O’Gara brought his kicking boots or David Humphreys started.
While Eden Park may evoke fond recent memories for Ireland, there has been nothing but misery for All Blacks opponents here since 1994. Facing a 27-test winning streak over 18 years, Ireland will need to bring something very special to the table and hope that the All Blacks are fatally slow out of the blocks with their new combinations.
The last encounter between these two sides saw the All Blacks win comfortably in 2010, but not before having to repel a fierce Ireland challenge in the opening stanza.
– Campbell Burnes
WALLABIES v WALES
When: Saturday June 9,
Where: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 32, Wallabies 21, Wales 10, Drawn 1
In Brisbane: Played 4, Wallabies 4, Wales 0
Last match: December 3, 2011: Wallabies beat Wales 24-18 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
WALES WILL fancy its chances of recording its first victory over the Wallabies in Australia since 1969 when the two teams clash in Brisbane.
The unbeaten Six Nations champions will enter this match at Suncorp Stadium against the Tri Nations title holders with a degree of confidence after the latter was sensationally upset 9-6 by Scotland in a dour, tryless game played in wet, windy conditions in Newcastle on Tuesday night.
Wallaby sympathisers will make all sorts of excuses for their side’s limp effort. They will say their team only had one training session prior to that game and that it was a tough ask for the players to participate in a test match just days after fronting in Super Rugby for their franchises.
However, that is complete and utter hogwash.
What you have to remember is Scotland was coming off a disappointing, winless Six Nations campaign. It had lost seven games on the bounce, is ranked 12th in the world, was missing a couple of first-choice selections and had not won in Australia since 1982.
Even with their second-stringers on show, the Wallabies still had in the likes of captain David Pocock, halfback Will Genia, wing Digby Ioane, flyhalf Berrick Barnes and hooker Stephen Moore enough class and experience to pummel the tourists.
Instead what we saw from Australia was a second-rate performance. The players look lost at sea and despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession and territory, never really gained ascendancy.
The Wallabies’ option-taking was poor – as was evidence when they gave up first use of the wind –and their play predictable, slow and lacking the genius to crack the committed Scottish defence. Their suspect front-row failed at the scrum and once again folded like a pack of cards when the heat came on.
Coach Robbie Deans has hinted that he is likely to make alterations to his team. Expect to see the likes of Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson come into the starting XV. However, Deans has ruled out restoring Quade Cooper at pivot after Barnes struggled against the Scots.
Wales is a fit side brimming with confidence, with skipper Sam Warburton saying he will be disappointed if his men lose more than one test.
The tourists tuned themselves up with a 30-21 victory over the UK Barbarians, a match which was awarded test match status by the Wales Rugby Union, and are riding a six-game winning streak.
Despite the absence of the hard-running Jamie Roberts through injury, Wales still has danger men in the backs, with the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Alex Cuthbert, James Hook and George North oozing quality.
The latter’s clash with Ioane on the wing should be a humdinger. So too will the match-up between Genia and Mike Phillips at halfback and the battle between the two world-class opensides, Warburton and Pocock.
The former should be joined in the pack by all-action blindside Dan Lydiate, this season’s Six Nations player of the year, locks Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris and props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones.
The Wallabies won both matches between the sides last year, the bronze playoff at the Rugby World Cup and an end of season tour game in Cardiff.
However, given what transpired on Tuesday night, Wales could be about to end its Brisbane duck this weekend.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.