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'We have to come out swinging': All Blacks pack bracing for Irish impact

By Ben Smith
(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Ireland’s hammering of Japan by 60-5 ‘surprised a lot of people’ according to All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree, with his side under no illusions about the task ahead of them this week.

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The All Blacks noticed just how Japan were ‘outmuscled’ around the contact area which presents a key challenge for Plumtree’s pack this week as they prepare for the most important two-week stretch of the tour.

“They were pretty brutal, particularly around the contact area, really outmuscled Japan,” he said of Ireland’s win over the Brave Blossoms.

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“The score surprised a lot of people, so it shows what type of form they’re in and what type of challenge it’s going to be this week for us.”

Plumtree described the Irish pack as ‘dynamic’ with a never say die attitude, something that he believes has been passed down from the time he was there as a coach under Joe Schmidt from 2013-14.

“Pretty dynamic. They’re hard-working, great work rate, they won’t give up, so a lot of similarities around Irish forward packs over the years.

“The legacy of what they believe in and how they play has just been passed on.

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“Strong set-piece, so we know, our forwards in particular, it’s going to be a real battle on Saturday night and one that we’re certainly looking forward to.”

The leader of the Irish pack for many years, Paul O’Connell, was a member of the side that Plumtree coached back then and is now a part of Ireland’s own coaching staff.

The All Blacks assistant said the Ireland pack will be getting a lot of knowledge from their old captain, and is looking forward to catching up with the players afterward.

“Some fond memories there. A few years ago now, but it’s good to see him passing on all his knowledge to some of those young fellas in that forward pack and I’m sure they’re really enjoying him,” he said.

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“Loved my time here, short time here, and really enjoyed working with the Irish forward pack and Paul in particular. I see Cian Healy’s there, Iain Hnderson, so there’s a few of the boys that I was coaching back in that day there, so it’d be good to catch up with them afterwards.”

Just who is named to face Ireland for the All Blacks is uncertain, with returning captain Sam Cane adding his name to the mix after getting significant minutes against Italy.

The loose forward mix is a selection puzzle for Plumtree, who says that every back-rower has improved on the tour adding complexity to the selection.

“Probably the way I look at it right now is every loose forwards improved on this tour,” Plumtree said.

“All of them have got better in the areas that we’ve asked them to, and that’s made selection harder. It’s not like anyone’s been easy to leave out.

“When you throw in our 7s and you throw in Sam Cane – that I thought had a really good game, first time back into international rugby last week, really busy for 80 minutes – throw him into the mix.

“Hoskins Sotutu, happy with some improvements he’s made in the game, Luke Jacobson is busy, but then if you look at Akira [Ioane], Ethan [Blackadder], the way they’ve been playing, Dalton Papalii as well, all those loose forwards are putting their hands up and that’s exactly what we want at this time of the year.

“The players know that, too, because the competition is hot and they have to perform well.”

The pack will have to be on their game but Plumtree says that when the All Blacks are under pressure is when they are at their best. He predicted his side will ‘come out swinging’ to meet the Irish challenge.

“We’re in a rugby-mad country. We know they’re after our scalp and that’s when the All Blacks are at their best, when we feel like our backs are against the wall and we have to come out swinging, and that’s what we’ll do.”

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