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Ireland may have fired their best shot already in this series

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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I’m not sure I’d want Dane Coles as my doctor.

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Coles definitely didn’t break the news gently to viewers on Saturday night. No, the All Blacks’ third-string hooker basically pronounced the team dead at Eden Park.

Such was Ireland’s apparent dominance, and Coles’ gloomy prognosis when Sky crossed to him on the sideline, that the final outcome came as some surprise.

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell’s press conference
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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell’s press conference

Ultimately, I was disappointed by Ireland.

Their scrum was lamentable and I thought they played too laterally. The All Blacks can be beaten up the middle and Ireland didn’t do enough to exploit that.

Would the final 42-19 scoreline have been different if Johnny Sexton stayed on the field? Maybe.

But he didn’t and the All Blacks won at a canter.

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I’m being slightly facetious about Coles, but there’s no doubt his first-half television interview was sobering.

Coles basically said the All Blacks were being beaten in all the effort areas and you could sense his frustration at being lumbered with a waterboy’s bib and microphone. The team was getting done and he wanted to be out there doing something about it.

That, allied to my disappointment with Ireland, means I’m hesitant to lavish too much praise upon the All Blacks and curious to see how things go with Ian Foster back in camp.

There’s no doubt the events of last week were good for the team.

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Players are a bit spoon-fed at times, but the Covid-enforced absences of coaches Foster, John Plumtree, Scott McLeod and Greg Feek meant some self-sufficiency was required.

Blokes had to take ownership for the preparation, which clearly had some positives.

Ally that to the appearances in camp of Joe Schmidt and Mike Cron and you had quite a cohesive and confident All Blacks team at Eden Park.

My fear now is that Ireland have fired their best shot and that we might not have the contest on our hands that we imagined.

I’d go dull if I were Ireland. I’d pick Conor Murray at halfback, for instance, and kick the bladder out of the ball.

I’d play tight, I’d maul and I’d pray the set pieces hold up a bit better.

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I mentioned Coles at the top because it’s easy to be seduced by the final score. To proclaim that all’s right with the All Blacks again and that one of these mythical corners has been turned.

It might have, but one fairly dominant half of football is too small a sample size.

That wasn’t the tune Coles was singing. He saw the first half an hour of footy and thought here we go again.

The team couldn’t control the collision, Ireland was rolling forward and he believed things looked pretty grim.

I think it will be good for rugby and good for the All Blacks if Ireland win this week.

Just because Ireland weren’t able to adequately exploit the All Blacks’ weaknesses doesn’t mean there aren’t any. The more those are exposed now, the better the All Blacks can be at next year’s world cup.

Complacency kills Rugby World Cup campaigns and I’d say the prevailing view in New Zealand since Saturday night is that Ireland aren’t much good. They’re competitive, sure, but the All Blacks are still 15 to 20 points better.

I hope Ireland prove that wrong. I hope they compete for 80 actual minutes and make things a darn sight closer than 42-19.

We’ll thank them for it in the long run.

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