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Ex-Irish fullback on what Ireland 'would love' about facing the All Blacks

By Ben Smith
Robbie Henshaw of Ireland scores a try during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Sky Stadium on July 16, 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The All Blacks 96-17 win over Italy made some viewers uncomfortable but Ireland won’t be one of them according to former Irish fullback Rob Kearney.

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Whilst a range of outcomes is still possible with neither pool A or pool B determined yet, Ireland face the prospect of facing New Zealand in a do-or-die quarter-final.

After watching Italy get demolished, Kearney said the thing his former team ‘would love’ about the All Blacks is the difference in defence with South Africa and France.

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“I think if there is one weakness to this New Zealand team, it’s the defence,” Kearney told Virgin Media Sport.

“They are very passive, they give the opposition a lot of time and space on the ball that the Irish attackers would love.

“They are not nearly as aggressive as South Africa or France are.”

Despite conceding 96 points Italy still managed to produce two tries out wide through well-constructed play.

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The first to Ange Capuozzo came from a strike play that manipulated the All Blacks’ edge and the shifty finisher took advantage.

Monty Ioane managed to combine with former England prospect Paolo Odogwu to score late in the exact same corner.

Defence

108
Tackles Made
125
16
Tackles Missed
33
87%
Tackle Completion %
79%

Kearney explained that it was Italy’s ability to score 17 points that will have Ireland confident that they can exploit the same space more effectively.

“We saw Italy get around them three or four times tonight and quite early on in the first five minutes they just didn’t have the skillset to do anything with that space that they manipulated,” he said.

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“Certainly, defensively from this All Blacks team, I think Ireland, should we get there in a quarter-final, will be able to exploit quite a bit of space.”

The All Blacks have seen the capabilities of Ireland’s attack which dismantled them in the final two Tests in New Zealand last year.

Ireland were able to score the first try in all three Tests, each time in the first 10 minutes after breaking through the line early.

Australian coach Matt Williams agreed that the time the All Blacks’ defence offers teams is ‘huge’ for a team like Ireland.

During Ireland’s battle with South Africa their attack failed to really get going for multiple reasons, one of them was the slow ruck speed and the oncoming rush from the Springboks line.

Ruck Speed

0-3 secs
50%
38%
3-6 secs
29%
42%
6+ secs
12%
15%
62
Rucks Won
74

“The South African defence is the unique defence in this tournament. They are so compact and so hard,” Williams said.

“Harder and faster and more compact than any other team, where Scotland’s defence is similar to New Zealand’s but not identical.

“Any defence that allows Ireland time to get in three passes, we saw the New Zealand defence allow the Italians to get in three passes, that will cause them trouble.

“Because if Ireland can get three passes in, they are very creative.

“Very, very creative on space and attacking that space. We saw against the South Africans, Ireland just couldn’t get to three passes very often, when they did they did a good job.

“If they can multiply those opportunities, especially if they get their lineout working, it doesn’t make it easier but it’s less awkward.

“They give you that extra second, which is huge. Huge in decision-making in international rugby.”

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