To twist a phrase, Gordon D’Arcy wears his scars on his sleeve when speaking about Ireland’s so-near-and-yet-so-far losses to New Zealand.
And the former Leinster centre admits that Joe Schmidt’s side will have to deliver a “perfect” performance to defeat the All Blacks this weekend.
Intriguingly, D’Arcy does not necessarily go along with the widely held view that Saturday’s Stateside clash is more of a warm-up for Ireland ahead of the sides’ clash in the return match at Aviva Stadium on November 19.
Many pundits have suggested that this weekend’s clash comes too soon in terms of the international squad’s lack of time together in preparation for Ireland to put it up to Steve Hansen’s formidable outfit.
“That’s the way it is,” said D’Arcy, speaking in promotion of Sky Sports’ autumn coverage of Irish international and provincial rugby.
“I potentially would have looked it at the other way — Chicago, a bit of fanfare, completely alien to them playing in a football stadium. It’s as good a chance as any to catch them.”
The 36-year-old’s logic becomes clearer when he outlines just how much of a challenge Ireland face no matter when or where the All Blacks stand in the opposing half.
They are a team that have survived the retirements of legendary players in the same way that others shrug their shoulders following the loss of some misplaced training cones.
“You kind of hoped they would struggle after they came out of the Richie McCaw-Dan Carter shadow. But, they’ve arguably got better, which is annoying,” said D’Arcy of a side that are on a record-breaking 18-game run of Test wins.
“I would take a lot from what Argentina did against them. We spent the best part of a decade going down to New Zealand. You try to beat them by playing at them.
“If you sit back and defend, you’ll get absolutely steam-rolled. We put ourselves in a position to beat the All Blacks three times and composure let us down at the end.
“Ireland may be one of the few teams that can match them for passion. We definitely can bring something else to the table,” said D’Arcy, before reflecting on his personal experiences of Ireland’s near-misses against the All Blacks, which included late reversals in 2006 in Hamilton and six years later in Christchurch.
Both of those defeats rank highly on the former centre’s list of heartbreaks, alongside the last-gasp disappointment of 2013 in the Aviva.
“The one in Dublin is probably a little bit more raw for me, it’s closer to home… actually, no they are all on a par,” said D’Arcy.
“[But] I do think there is a lot to be taken from that. You can kind of go ‘OK, we have to be perfect. As a team, we have to be perfect.’
“You don’t just have to play your best game individually — you have to play your best game as a centre partnership, as a backline, as a back three.”
The 36-year-old continued: “The only way to test New Zealand is to put them into a place where you are starting to question the integrity of their defence, the stress points to find a fracture or a pivot point in their defensive line.
"Can you get them into a place where they are so tired or so worked that they just look at a space and can’t get there? That’s largely what happens when New Zealand do that to teams.”
In terms of the line-up Schmidt goes with, the possible selection of Jared Payne is likely to have a major impact on Saturday’s starting XV.
If Payne is picked, it could close the door on D’Arcy’s old provincial team-mate Rob Kearney at full-back.
“It is very hard for me to look at this objectively,” said D’Arcy.
“I always look at someone like Rob Kearney and the pros that he brings to the game, that quality and solidity at 15. In the same breath, it is very hard to not look at what Jared Payne does week in, week out.
“When you are a national coach, you want players putting their hands up. You want selection headaches.
“The combinations start becoming really intricate which is, again, a great way to be playing it. Joe is definitely the master of getting the best out of his squad.”
D’Arcy also insisted that the possible selection of Garry Ringrose at centre should not be dismissed.
“I don’t think so at all. He has firmly deserved to be in the conversation,” said D’Arcy on Ringrose, with the 21-year-old also likely to be in the mix for a starting shirt depending on what way Schmidt deals his cards.
“He [Ringrose] looks like he’s ready for the next step-up. But do bear in mind that it is another step up… and bear in mind the next step up has a ladder at the end because you’re playing the All Blacks.”
Sky Sports pundits Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald were promoting a huge autumn of Irish rugby coverage on Sky Sports, where viewers can watch the ERCC, Guinness PRO12, and Guinness Series all in one place. Customers can upgrade to Sky Sports now for just €25 a month for 6 months by searching ‘Sky Sports Offer.’
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