Date: Saturday 20th November
Kick Off: 17:30
Venue: Lansdowne Road
Declan Kidney’s team selection for the All-Blacks game on Saturday has faced some fierce criticism since it was announced yesterday. The controversial selection of Eoin Reddan, Mick O’Driscoll and John Hayes on the bench raised some eyebrows due to their recent poor form.
Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tom Court make up the Irish front row that will surely be tested, John Hayes manages to keep a spot on the bench surprisingly after his poor performance in the Samoa game and although many have been calling for Mike Ross to get a chance to prove himself at this level, it is obvious that he is not featuring in Kidneys current plans.
Ireland’s game plan has depended heavily on the set piece, and they need parity in the scrum and lineout to secure territory. Mick O’Driscoll struggled in the South African game against one of the most experienced and best lineouts in world rugby. The All-Blacks do not have same experience at hooker or 2nd row that South Africa have and they should be much more competitive.
Devin Toner secured 100% of lineout ball against Samoa last week and he rightly can feel hard-done-by for not getting a starting place this weekend.
There was some better news for the Irish lineout with the withdrawal of Kiwi lock Brad Thorn who has been ruled out of playing on Saturday after failing to recover from a hamstring strain. He has been replaced in the starting XV by Anthony Boric with Samuel Whitelock coming onto the replacements bench.
David Wallace will have his hands full contending with Richie McCaw, and there are no surprises in the selection of his backrow partners Ferris and Heaslip. Jamie Heaslip will have a huge point to prove against the All-Blacks after his early exit in the Summer game in New Plymouth. He will need no motivation for a big performance: he owes it to his team-mates.
The selection of Reddan at scrum half has Irish rugby fans scratching their heads. He had a truly awful game against South Africa. New Zealand are lethal on the deck and at ruck time, there will be no time for Reddan’s slow ponderous passes. I promise you something, he will be turned-over repeatedly by the Kiwi backrow.
We can only hope that Kidney will make the changes early on if this happens and not to leave it with 20 minutes to go. In my mind Declan Kidney missed a real opportunity in the Samoan game not to start Peter Stringer with Jonny Sexton, as this would be my starting half-backs going into the 6 Nations and World Cup next year.
Ronan O’Gara can feel a little aggrieved not to be starting, but I think that Kidney has made the right choice at out-half. Sexton is the future, and he is going to be the first choice 10 going into next year. Having a player of O’Gara’s vast experience on the bench is like having a massive insurance policy, if it’s not working out for Sexton on the day, Ireland know that O’Gara can come off the bench cold and close a game out.
The centre partnership of D’Arcy and O’Driscoll are going to have to vastly improve on their recent performances. Their defensive abilities will be truly tested when facing the onslaught of Conrad Smith an Ma’a Nonu. And with Sonny Bill Williams waiting for his chance to spring from the bench, there will be no respite for the full game. The ever dependable Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald will provide support out wide, whilst Rob Kearney returns from injury to take his fullback jersey from Fitzgerald who filled in admirably for him last week.
The Irish pack will have to turn in a huge performance to compete with the Kiwi’s. The lineout will be more competitive, and in the backrow we may have a very slight edge. But Reddan is the real weak link in this team,
Realistically, The weather is the only thing that will save Ireland now. The current weather forecast for Saturday is showers, the forecast for Ireland’s chances against the All-Blacks is equally gloomy.
Prediction: New Zealand by 15+
Ireland team (v New Zealand): C Healy, R Best, T Court, D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip, R Kearney, T Bowe, B O’Driscoll (C), G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald, J Sexton, E Reddan. Replacements : S Cronin, J Hayes, D Toner, D Leamy, P Stringer, R O’Gara, K Earls.
New Zealand team (v Ireland): M Muliaina, C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, H Gear, D Carter, A Ellis; K Read, R McCaw (C), J Kaino, T Donnelly, A Boric, O Franks, H Elliot, T Woodcock. Replacements : A Hore, J Afoa, S Whitelock, L Messam, A Mathewson, S Donald, S Bill Williams