This New Zealand team don’t want to be that team that loses the first one to Ireland, writes Simon Lewis.
It may sound strange to hear an All Blacks captain speaking of fear ahead of a Test match but to have present and past New Zealand skippers do so on the eve of their showdown with Ireland must go down as some sort of record.
The all-conquering world champions appear to be streets ahead of their rivals as they attempt to stretch their winning streak since August 2015 to a world-record 19 consecutive international wins.
They will go into tonight’s game at Soldier Field odds-on favourites against a side that has failed to beat them in 28 previous meetings dating back to 1905.
There has been a draw between Ireland and the All Blacks, in 1973, and several near misses for the men in green, not least on their last meeting in November 2013 when a last-minute Ryan Crotty try and conversion by Aaron Cruden sealed a comeback from a 22-7 half-time deficit for a 24-22 victory.
Yet that current winning sequence and their history of dominance over the Irish is precisely the reason captain Kieran Read and his predecessor Richie McCaw were sounding caution yesterday as they attended a sponsorship event in Chicago on behalf of AIG.
“It’s a fact, we certainly don’t want to be that team that loses the first one to Ireland,” No.8 Read said.
“It’s not going to factor in from here on in, but it’s been spoken about and guys understand that, but that’s not going to be the thing that decides the game so for us there’s no point talking about it too much.
“For us, it’s about us talking about our process and ensuring what we do on the field.”
Read’s former back-row partner and captain McCaw understands the current skipper’s standpoint. History is irrelevant, and yet...
“From a personal point of view, I knew it, and you don’t want to be the first team that loses. I don’t think it motivates you as such, you know that’s the case.
“But you’re in danger if you use that as a motivator, the motivator is turning up to perform and if you start worrying about those other things it’s not helpful.
“I’m pretty sure most of the guys in the back of their minds know, they just don’t like to talk about it.”
McCaw, who retired after the lifting the World Cup at Twickenham in 2015, said he was intrigued by this fixture, the first of two against Ireland in three weeks, with the All Blacks going to Dublin on November 19 as part of the European leg of their end of season tour.
“I know the guys will have prepared well, but part of me wonders what it’s going to be like. That’s what’s great about sport and these games, you don’t know the result before you start. If you did, everyone would get sick of it.
“That’s why there’s interest and intrigue, it’s been three years since the two teams have played and in that time the Irish had a bit of success and stuff and it makes it intriguing. The fact that there’s two Tests this autumn adds a little bit extra too.”
As captain that day in Dublin in 2013, McCaw was part of that desperate second-half comeback that ensured the All Blacks would go unbeaten for the calendar year with 13 straight wins and he understands the pressure Read and his players will be under to do likewise this time, stretching their unbeaten run from 18 to a record-busting 22 consecutive victories.
“When you win time and again, that’s the most dangerous time. It’s easy to feel that it will be all right. I think unfortunately it’s the toughest thing in sport, to keep backing up those performances.
“From just talking briefly with a couple of the coaches, they weren’t particularly happy with the way everyone played in the last outing. Even though they beat the Wallabies it was a hell of a match.
“And they’ve had a week off and they realise they need to refresh before this tour, so it will really interesting to see how this goes this weekend. It’s been a big year but they can’t use any excuses for that.”
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