Sean Fitzpatrick is not ruling out an Irish victory in New Zealand this summer, but believes the series is a done deal. Speaking at the Urban Stars project – one of many run by the Laureus World Sports Academy across the globe – the former All Black captain believes that New Zealand will continue their supremacy under Steve Hansen in the new coach’s first series in charge next month.
“In terms of the pressure on Steve coming in, I don’t think it’ll be any different than any other All Black coach. As New Zealand fans we expect them to win and it’s his duty to select the right side to do that. When you look at the performances in Super Rugby, the quality is obviously there.”
Hansen’s first squad is filled with interesting selections, including out-of-form Blues stars such as Piri Weepu yet omitting promising young New Zealand talent such as Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean and Hurricanes full back Andre Taylor. In a year where the All Blacks will play Ireland, in The Rugby Championship and then travel on their Autumn Tour later on, there will be plenty of chances for these players to grab their opportunities.
“Steve’s given guys like Weepu and Ali Williams a clear message that if they don’t front up, they won’t be playing. In selecting them he’s probably looked at last year and the fact that Cory Jane and Ma’a Nonu had pretty average Super Rugby championships, but then were the stars of the Rugby World Cup. It’s about getting those players who aren’t performing well back in that All Blacks environment, Piri and Ali especially, and hopefully they’ll re-ignite their on button which has been missing to date for the Blues.”
“With Fruean, I don’t think it’s a controversial call. He’s played well in a number of games but he’s going through that learning process and although he’s played well maybe they’re looking at him for either the end of year tour or The Rugby Championship – the same for TJ Perenara. Some players who are good at Heineken Cup and Super Rugby level are sometimes not good enough for internationals, but they’ll be given their chance.”
“Andre Taylor though is different. It’s a harsh call because I think he’s been up there as one of the form full backs around at the moment. The great tries that he’s scoring show the attacking attitude of the Hurricanes and how they want to play.”
As for Ireland, Fitzpatrick has been hugely impressed by Leinster’s third Heineken Cup in four seasons, calling for a match between themselves and this year’s Super Rugby champions to decide who is the best club side in the world. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks in a test match, a fact he is not hesitant to point out, but believes now could be their time.
“They’re playing the World Champions and it should make for a great series. Ireland will have been disappointed with their World Cup – going out in the quarter-finals after doing so well in the pools.
“I could see them winning a test. They may have never beaten the All Blacks and it is a big challenge but they have enough experience and talent to believe they can. It’s been a long season for them with the Rugby World Cup and with two of their sides contesting the Heineken Cup Final to then go straight into a summer tour, but there’s no reason why they can’t do well.”
by Ben Coles
Sean Fitzpartrick is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, 46 of the greatest living sports legends, who volunteer their time to act as global ambassadors for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
Since its inception, Laureus has raised more than €55 million to support projects which have helped to improve the lives of over one-and-a-half million young people. Currently Laureus supports over 100 sports-based projects around the world. For more information visit Laureus.com