All Blacks used to knocking 40 shades of green out of Ireland

All Blacks players enjoying a round of golf on their day off yesterday. From left: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images

It still seems, frighteningly, like yesterday but eight years have filtered into the ether since Graham Henry named a side to take on Wales in Cardiff before drafting in 15 new faces to go about their business against Ireland a week later.

That decision, the most obvious example of the former All Black coach’s extensive search for new talent at the time, drummed up considerable criticism back home with his accusers contending that the famous jersey was being given away a tad too lightly.

The result, though, was much the same.

For 41-3 at the Millennium Stadium read 45-7 at the old Lansdowne Road. Different faces, same crushing excellence. It said a lot about the automaton that is the All Black machine and maybe a bit too about their perception of Ireland.

In public, the world champions are politeness and respectfulness personified. Ireland are treated respectfully, as are all their opponents, but a gander through their squad for this latest European tour confirms that the green jersey holds few fears.

Of the 36 men listed in their squad this month, 11 have made their Test debuts against Ireland. That may mean nothing or it may, in fact, confirm the suspicion that the failure of any Irish national team to better them has permeated their psyche as much as ours.

“We take every team we come up against with respect, and Ireland are a passionate rugby team,” said Jeremy Thrush, whose first experience of international rugby came against France in Christchurch this summer. “They’ve good forwards and quality backs and we’ll have a good look at them and focus on them now.

“They had a good win against Samoa and a loss last week but we’ll know they will be focusing on having a good game against us. There was a lot of talk last week about the big Test match against England, we just want to go make sure we get things right this wee.” See? Not the hint of an insult, a swipe or a putdown.

It must be different behind closed doors, though. They wouldn’t be human if their coaches and senior players didn’t spend weeks like this chasing any hint of complacency from the halls of whatever hotel they find themselves in. Especially when they have navigated to this last game of a long season undefeated and with history in sight.

Ten of the 11 who were first blooded against Ireland featured in games in which the Kiwis scored between 40 and 60 points. Only Richie McCaw, who debuted in Dublin in 2001, and Sam Cane, who was a replacement last year in the second of three meetings down under, had anything other than an armchair ride.

McCaw was part of a callow touring party that trailed 21-7 at half-time in Lansdowne Road before running in five second-half tries while Cane, another in the nation’s proud lineage of flankers, had Dan Carter’s late drop goal to thank for a somewhat fortuitous 22-19 win in Christchurch.

Those close runs may, in a way, be more depressing than the 60-0 and 66-28 scorelines of 2010 and 2012, in that they demonstrate a resolve that has dragged the All Blacks through on rare occasions when they have struggled to impose their will on Ireland.

“We don’t have a code,” said Thrush when asked what it is to be part of such a daunting tradition, “but it’s about making sure we keep our high standards week to week, even when you’re not with the All Blacks. Once you play for the All Blacks, you’re an All Black for life and it’s about making sure you keep those high standards.”


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