Donnacha Ryan knows all about Ireland’s painful history with the All Blacks. It just makes him more determined that this current group of men in green should make some history of their own.
Munster lock Ryan forms part of the 29th Ireland team to face New Zealand since 1905 when the two sides clash at Chicago’s Soldier Field tomorrow.
“A lot has happened since then, two World Wars, lot of other stuff. At the end of the day, from our point of view, we have got to narrow our focus on our own jobs. It is a novelty to us being here. Bringing up history is great but from our point of view, creating our own history is the ultimate challenge.
“That determines our mindset leading into the game.... We are pretty well aware of the task ahead. From previous games I have played — 2008, Munster, was the first time I played against them. I didn’t need much of a gee-up there, playing against them. We played them in three Tests down below in 2012, and I didn’t need a gee-up there, either.
“Basically, this is your profession. You are motivated every single day of the week. You bring that emotion in the latter part of the week but it is the technical aspects we will be looking to perfect, especially when we are under pressure or fatigued. The emotions are always there playing for your country anyway. It is the specific detail that determines whether you are in with a shout or not.”
The three-Test series Ryan referenced were a neatly-packaged summation of Ireland’s efforts against the world champions. A routine defeat in Auckland in the opening rubber, the narrowest of defeats in Christchurch in the second and then that nightmarish 60-0 stuffing in Hamilton.
Ryan remembers it all too clearly but has survived to tell the tale.
“I was not feeling the Mae West going into that game! We had a good performance in Christchurch the week before and it was just … we tried so hard that night and got nothing out of it. Looking at the game over and over again, the harder we tried, the worse it got. That is just the type of team they are, their philosophy on how they play the game and everything.
“It just goes to show you need to be on top of your game and on your detail.”
Under new management since that tour, Joe Schmidt certainly ensures there is plenty of attention to detail, as do his assistants, including defence coach Andy Farrell, on board with Ireland since before the summer tour to South Africa.
“In a game like this, you don’t want to be surviving,” Ryan said. “You want to be setting the impetus. At every opportunity, every contact, there is the challenge to impose yourself on the game and as Andy has done, from a defensive point of view, he has brought that mindset into defences, that there is no switch off and once the ball is turned over, that you keep on getting up.
“It is a fantastic mindset to have. We have an attacking mindset and obviously, we saw against South Africa, they are capable of doing a massive job on teams. As I said, when you are nailed on, on what you have to do, as a collective unit, you have to produce.”
Ireland will have to produce in a unique setting, playing the All Blacks on neutral ground in the United States, at NFL stadium Soldier Field in a Chicago giddy with delight at their beloved Cubs’ long-awaited World Series success. It appeals to the boy inside second-row Ryan’s considerable frame.
“It’s unreal. From a personal point of view it is unbelievable. You get into rugby as a young guy to try and play at the top level. You don’t know how far that ambition is going to take you.
“It’s amazing, your ambition is to play for your country and to play the best in the world is the pinnacle of it all. The main thing then, obviously the child grows out of you, you turn into a professional state which is to try to be able to perform, to maximise that ambition that you have had.
“Certainly to be over here as well. It is a novelty, a different unique environment for us all. End of the day the challenge is to play a game against the All Blacks, and obviously we have not had much success against them. That’s the big challenge we have got.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved