The function room in the swanky Crowne Plaza in downtown Auckland, which easily accommodated up to 100 journalists during last year’s World Cup, welcomed the small Irish press corps and a handful of disinterested Kiwi hacks wearing grins from ear to ear. The funereal atmosphere was interrupted only by the odd quip or the click of a camera.
The Kiwis don’t do modesty when it comes to their national game. It was fitting therefore that Donnacha Ryan was wheeled out to face the music, given the Munster lock was a tower of strength in the Irish pack on a desperately difficult night in Eden Park.
Without Paul O’Connell, the onus was on Ryan to step and make an impression and the 28-year-old did just that. Only the perpetual Sean O’Brien made more tackles than the Nenagh native, who was also charged with running the lineout in O’Connell’s absence. Ireland had a near perfect night out of touch despite their inability to disrupt the All Blacks, who enjoyed a 100% success rate at lineout time.
It was Ryan’s first Test start against southern hemisphere opposition and he admitted that the pace of the match was frantic at times.
“Certainly the first 20, 30 minutes were very, very fast and it was definitely a hard introduction to that pace,” said Ryan on the 42-10 thrashing.
Declan Kidney’s side have taken an almighty hammering in the New Zealand papers in the last few days. The New Zealand Herald described the Irish display as “hapless” while the words “plucky” and “gutsy” were bandied about in the hotel lobby yesterday morning. Ryan, however, would not be drawn on the criticism being aimed at his team-mates by the New Zealand scribes.
“I haven’t read any of it to be honest, so I really couldn’t say much about it,” he said. “I just think… we need to get on our own case a bit more.
“Let’s not worry about what other people are saying, there’s nothing you can really do about that.”
Ryan was part of a scratch Munster outfit that ran Graham Henry’s All Blacks desperately close on an epic night in Thomond Park back in 2008. Tony McGahan’s depleted team threatened to repeat the heroics of 1978 and were leading by three points with three minutes remaining against their illustrious opposition — a team that contained the likes of Cory Jane, Joe Rokocoko and Piri Weepu — only to be undone by a late Rokocoko touchdown.
That night in Limerick still resonates with Ryan but he dispels the notion that Munster’s performance that night could serve as a blueprint for Ireland’s approach for the rest of the current tour.
“That was a unique day,” Ryan explained.
“You’re playing with lads that you’re training with all the time, as well the guys [Lifeimi Mafi, Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett and Jeremy Manning] had their own haka [that night].
“Look, I wouldn’t say we weren’t any more up for the game last weekend… it was just on that night there a few balls maybe they spilled and we were able to capitalise on them a small bit.
“It was a different game on that night, and it made a difference that we were playing at home at the time. You just have to take every game on its merits.”
Still, that night proved the men in black are not invincible and if you can execute an accurate kicking game coupled with an organised and aggressive rush defence, then it is possible to give these guys a game.
Ireland are certainly hurting after their dismantling in Auckland and will need to summon a Thomond-esque ferocity if they are to stand any chance in Christchurch next Saturday. Ryan insisted they would not go quietly into the night.
“Personally, I don’t play to lose,” he stated. “I don’t think anybody in the dressing room does that either.
“Fair enough, it was a bad day at the office on Saturday but we just need to keep trucking with it and not get too despondent.”