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FEATURE Revenge on the mind: Win or lose in Paris, All Blacks have Ireland to thank

Revenge on the mind: Win or lose in Paris, All Blacks have Ireland to thank
8 months ago

The storyline couldn’t have worked out better for the All Blacks at this World Cup. Everyone seems convinced they have landed where they didn’t want to be – in a quarter-final against Ireland – but everyone who thinks this is wrong.

Ireland, world number and on a 17-game unbeaten run that includes World Cup victories against South Africa and Scotland, have beaten the All Blacks three of the last four times they have played.

They are impressively coached, rigidly disciplined, fantastically accurate and supremely confident, yet Ireland are precisely who New Zealand coach Ian Foster wanted to meet in the quarter-final of this World Cup.

And there are two reasons why. The first is more symbolic, but it is powerful and relevant, nevertheless.

Ireland and New Zealand enjoyed contrasting emotions during last year’s Test series in NZ. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland did the All Blacks an inadvertent favour last year when they won the three-Test July series in New Zealand. And because Ireland forced the All Blacks to make dramatic changes in personnel and strategy, and to lift their standards in all facets of their game, they latter are delighted now to have the chance to see how much they have developed in the last 15 months.

It was a pivotal moment for the All Blacks – a loss that led to them doing all sorts of soul-searching and reconfiguring as it highlighted a number of areas where the world’s best-known rugby team were falling behind.

Ireland, effectively, sent New Zealand into panic mode and forced massive changes. After that series defeat last July, All Blacks assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar were sacked.

And they were sacked because after Ireland played such controlled, simple and effective rugby, it became undeniable that New Zealand were on the wrong track.

In a World Cup cycle that has been unusually volatile for the All Blacks – filled with more lows than usual certainly – the series loss to Ireland was the nadir.

They didn’t have the same physical edge or set-piece power. They didn’t have the same mobile, bruising athletes who could smash opponents and play a bit of rugby.

In a World Cup cycle that has been unusually volatile for the All Blacks – filled with more lows than usual certainly – the series loss to Ireland was the nadir.

Ireland’s 2-1 victory was the most formative three weeks of the last four years, a point that Foster readily conceded after his team had qualified for the quarter-finals.

“Very much, so I reckon,” said Foster. “I don’t think we got surprised in that series from what we were dealt but we realised that there were a couple of areas where our benchmark wasn’t high enough.

“We realised that we had to make a bit of a step shift in a couple of areas to get what we needed to.

Ian Foster following the loss to Ireland in Wellington. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“You can’t give top teams a couple of lineout drive tries against you for example and expect to come out and beat them consistently. We had to work hard in a couple of areas – we still are – that obviously being one.”

The other major lesson from that series, was the importance of technical precision and accuracy in the collision areas.

The All Blacks lost the plot with their discipline last July – picking up two yellow cards and a red in the first half of the second test and they were lucky that a refereeing oversight prevented them from being reduced to 12 men for a 10-minute spell.

“We also learned in that series, quite frankly, you want 15 players on the park,” said Foster. “The second Test was a shambles with cards and in the third test there was a card that we came right back into that game when they went down to 14 men, and they should have stayed at 14 men for the rest of the game.

The team that will likely start the quarter-final will look nothing like the team that started the last time the All Blacks played Ireland.

“We have learned the importance of that. It was an upper cut we got, but to be fair we have had those upper cuts before, but sometimes you get an upper cut, but you come out of the winning side of it.”

Since that series against Ireland, the All Blacks have reinvented themselves tactically. They have become a much tougher, physical team with a vastly improved scrum, while their breakdown work is also more accurate and ruthless.

Now they build everything through the forwards first: using their scrum to win penalties, their lineout to pressure teams and their breakdown to win turnover ball and create counterattack chances.

Everything they do has a muscularity to it and that’s why the team that will likely start the quarter-final will look nothing like the team that started the last time the All Blacks played Ireland.

That defeat effectively ended, or put on hold, the Test careers of Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu, Angus Ta’avao, Pita Gus Sowakula, Roger Tuivasa-Scheck and Aiden Ross.

PIta Gus Sowakula played two Tests against Ireland and hasn’t been sighted in a black jersey since. (Photo by Marty Melville/Photosport)

In their place have come the likes of Ethan de Groot, Tyrel Lomax, Fletcher Newell, Shannon Frizell and Mark Telea, while Jordie Barrett has been reinvented as a midfielder and Richie Mo’unga has been established as the premier No 10.

The All Blacks have also found livewire halfback Cam Roigard since last year, got Damian McKenzie back from Japan and rejuvenated Anton Lienert-Brown.

Ireland will be looking at an entirely different team and whatever they learned about the All Blacks last year, may be rendered moot in the quarter-final such is the scale of change in the last 15 months.

And what else will be different is the intensity of the All Blacks’ motivation. They were mentally drifting a year ago.

There’s a lot of us who are pretty keen to get one up on them and still hurting from what happened last year.

Beauden Barrett

They didn’t know who they were or how they wanted to play. The players didn’t have the confidence in the game plan or coaching staff that they now do, and the All Blacks have shown by scoring 240 points in their last three pool games that they are ruthless on attack.

They are also burning with desire to be let loose against Ireland because many of the players see it as an opportunity for revenge.

“We learned a lot during that series,” says All Blacks fullback Beauden Barrett. “It was a challenging time, some of the most challenging times we’ve faced as an All Black team and personally, losing a series in our backyard.

“But what we know is the beast that Ireland are and if you allow them to dictate up front and play they want they want to, they are a tough team to stop.

“So it’s going to be great because there’s a lot of us who are pretty keen to get one up on them and still hurting from what happened last year.”

Beauden Barrett following the All Blacks’ series loss to Ireland. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

These are the kind of situations that the All Blacks love: shown up by a great Ireland team last year, they went away, made big changes and have come back stronger, better and hungrier to succeed.

This is why their legacy is what it is – they never take defeat well and they would love nothing more than to show how much they have improved against the very team that forced them to rebuild everything in the first place.

And so too would it be all the sweeter to do it at a World Cup. It used to be an All Blacks failing to dominate the World Cup cycle and then lose at the tournament itself to one of the teams they had smacked around three or four times in the years before.

The irony of being able to turn the tables on Ireland would be delicious. “They’ve been the best team in the world,” said hooker Dane Coles.

“There’s a few scars with us losing to them you can’t get away from that fact. It would be a really good opportunity to play them. I know everyone in this team, we’re looking forward to it.”

Comments

56 Comments
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Paul 251 days ago

I don't subscribe to the NZ Herald, so I have not read the article... but there are reports that Gregor has compared this current Ireland team to England in the 90s. Reports are saying that he suggested that Ireland are unlikeable in the same way... I find it hard to believe that an intelligent and nuanced writer like Gregor Paul would throw out a scud like that in such a clumsy fashion. I am guessing that a line has been taken out of context and used as a headline in Ireland / UK.

However, it is interesting to see how success and likeability are inextricably linked. The ABU phenomenon, Leinster, Saracens, German Soccer, USA at everything... we do like to take them down a peg or 2.

S
Schneider 252 days ago

["Since that series against Ireland, the All Blacks have reinvented themselves tactically. They have become a much tougher, physical team with a vastly improved scrum, while their breakdown work is also more accurate and ruthless....]

ABs fwds are probably the weakest of the big 4 currently and their breakdown work is shocking. They will need to massively improve in this area.

ABs need to blitz them in the first 20-30 min, get a nice 10 point plus lead, then the confidence will grow.

Weirdly I would suggest if the Irish are holding out and defending well after multiple ABs phases- dare I say Mo'unga or one of the Barret boys need to try some drop goals.

Build some scoreboard pressure and see if this great Irish side's composure starts to crack.

L
Lasika 252 days ago

Die hard AB fan here, but what this article assumes is that its only the ABs that evolved since last July. But one has got to remember that Ireland has evolved as well; they have made changes, albeit subtle and gotten better in all aspects of the game. We will be kidding ourself if we think that time has stood still for Ireland and its ABs to make the improvements and stand in good stead to win the QF. Aspiration and reality can be different.

K
Ken 252 days ago

I have long since stopped reading GP articles and regret being suckered back into reading this one. Like almost every prior article this is PR puff piece for Foster and NZR.

Ask yourself why only with Foster do the ABs need to have “learnings” from prior beatings - and there have been a lot of them recently. How is it that we haven’t stayed ahead of the curve under his leadership? We didn’t really learn from the loss to England in 2019 (or the draw last year) but apparently learnt so much from being outclassed by Ireland (and the SA) in July last year.

The ABs are, according to this author, a completely different team, ready to teach Ireland a lesson. Yet they were clueless against SA in August and against France last month. The teams they have beaten in style are second and third tier. This is so delusional it aggravates me reading it. Foster hand picked Plumtree as forwards coach and they went backwards. He was then forced to dump him to save his own position, yet now we’re expected to view him as some sort of zen master?

Unless the ABs have something radically different up their sleeve from what we’ve seen over the last 15 months Ireland are going to give Foster a few more learnings to ponder.

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Turlough 252 days ago

The Smart stadium clash, arguably NZs best performance in recent years, also revealed weakness which SA exploited to win 35-7 in Twickenham.
Scoring a 17 point Blitz in 16' the ABs then were dominated by the BOKs until almost the 70th minute when a Will Jordan try steadied the ship.
SA knew that denying NZ the headstart or any soft period of ascendancy would turn the tide. So it proved in Twickenham although yellows (and a malfunctioning counter maul) made the scoreline more disastrous.
You deny NZ their blitz start or you keep it to 10 or under, adapt and outscore over the 80'. Scotland threw the kitchen sink at Ireland and NZ may throw the Anvil and heavy metal work shed at them, but Ireland will plan to resist and reply. Ireland's game gets adversely affected by something like pressure. Which is what this 'All pressure on Ireland', 'Revenge for the Series' stuff is kinda about.
If Ireland play their normal intense accurate game through the NZ blitz and after it becomes very very difficult for NZ to win. You cannot get away from that 35-7 scoreline. Ireland wont need to lose a match to learn the lesson SA learned in Smart stadium.

A
Aidan 252 days ago

On form, one would have to think Ireland have the edge. They have been tested and passed (so far) in this rugby world cup. NZ have beaten up minnows but fallen at the French hurdle. It's difficult to come to the conclusion that they are locked and loaded for the quarter final match. They *might *be but from the data one would have to conclude that Ireland are in a slightly better position.

D
Daniel 253 days ago

At the end of day, all that matters is what is on the scoreboard. What could have been doesn't matter.

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Poe 253 days ago

There is a long black shadow over Ireland....

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Toddy 253 days ago

Nice story Gregor, but, a bit like Shawshank redemption I think we will find this weekend it is the hope that kills ya.

I know Foster was talking about the ref and how it could have been different but this comes across as sounding desperate like the only way to beat Ireland is when they are down to 14 men.

"...came right back into that game when they went down to 14 men, and they should have stayed at 14 men for the rest of the game."

But if they can put all those pieces together it will be awesome to watch. If not then Foster's reign certainly won't be remembered fondly.

The other side of course is that Ireland have also improved since then, going on a 17 match winning streak and looking to many as invincible.

D
David 253 days ago

I can't believe it's only Tuesday. Saturday can't come fast enough. It's going to be one hell of a match.

I just hope there are no cards and that both teams keep 15 on the park.

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