Date: 16th June 2012
Kickoff: 8:35am BST
Referee: Nigel Owens
Venue: New AMI Stadium, Christichurch
After enduring such a painful period prior to embracing the Webb Ellis trinket last autumn, it appears as though New Zealand are intent on riding their considerable momentum through to 2015. Having said that, Steve Hansen will demand that the world champions are more accurate in their phase-play tomorrow – some disjointed patches during last weekend’s first Test spared Ireland an even more comprehensive hiding.
There is only one personnel change for the hosts, with injured Victor Vito replaced by Adam Thomson, the Highlanders flanker who crossed for one of the All Black’s tries on Saturday. No respite there, then. Oh, and Sam Cane – the 20 year-old joining the replacements – is a reigning Junior World Championship winner cutting his Super 15 teeth with the table-topping Waikato Chiefs. These guys can play a bit.
Four new faces gives Ireland a sturdier look, with Mike Ross, Gordon D’Arcy, Kevin McLaughlin and Andrew Trimble all involved on the back of good domestic seasons. Tellingly, neither of Saturday’s debutants – Declan Fitzpatrick and Simon Zebo – retain starting berths, although both will be involved from the bench at some stage.
Ironically, the lop-sided nature of a 42-10 scoreline was not a totally disastrous beginning to Ireland’s tour. Brian O’Driscoll, Rory Best and Sean O’Brien proved that they can more than mix it with the Kiwis, while Jonathan Sexton worried the home faithful with some great game-management in the early stages. Declan Kidney must urge excellence across the board though, because brilliant individuals won’t deter the black tide.
What to Expect:
This is something of a Catch-22 for the visitors. They looked at their best last weekend during their more expansive moments, developing free-flowing attacks from Sexton’s silky distribution. Then again, lapses of skill and concentration in the loose were punished by New Zealand’s characteristically clinical counters. The Leinstermen in midfield will not want to die wondering, which is wise. Err on the side of caution, and it could get messy for Ireland. An all-action performance from Jamie Heaslip and the loose-forwards is vital.
With Dan Carter reaching the upper echelons of his astronomic ability once more, the All Blacks – including a salivating Julian Savea –will swarm off their playmaker’s every move. When he gets the ball, that is. Newbie nine Aaron Smith seemed keen to probe fringes in Auckland, adding yet another dimension to New Zealand’s attack. Richie McCaw will not have enjoyed conceding Fergus McFadden’s breakaway score, so ruthlessness will be the aim at the new AMI Stadium.
Head to Head: Conrad Smith & Brian O’Driscoll
One unsung, one canonised – this is an enthralling midfield contest. There are lots of reasons why Smith has won 50 out of his 56 Tests; the 30 year-old has an unparalleled engine and a simple, yet sublime skill set. O’Driscoll will have his work cut out in stopping ‘The Snake’ at source, especially in broken play. Equally though, Ireland’s skipper is the master of the set-move and will be charged with punching holes from first phase – needless to say, not an easy task against the men in black.
Ones to Watch: Sam Whitelock & Conor Murray
Content to graft in the engine room of the second row while the pretty boys rack up points and plaudits, Whitelock is a pillar of strength – reliable in the lineout and immensely industrious around the park – that quietly supports a very special team. Still just 23, he has been entrusted with an enforcing role for the foreseeable future and is filling Brad Thorn’s boots very well. Now Whitelock has the added responsibility of coaxing rookie Brodie Retallick through his first few internationals. Expect him to cope.
Perhaps lucky to hold onto his spot, Murray needs to come to the party. Though Eoin Reddan floundered in a 20-minute cameo from the bench, the knives are out for the Munsterman. Murray was indecisive and got on the wrong side of referee Nigel Owens at Eden Park, leading to a lot of unnecessary pressure and must add composure to his trademark tenacity. Owens officiates again, so the scrum-half would do well to wipe all memory of last weekend and start afresh, which will require some serious minerals.
Unfortunately for intrepid Ireland, New Zealand will fight to get beyond the considerable benchmark that was set seven days previously. Driven by the emotion of a return to Christchurch, as well as their own meticulous nature, they might manage as much. New Zealand by 26