ALAN QUINLAN woke upfor work yesterday to thesound of heavy rainfall, and found himself trying to get used to winter time and darkness at 5pm. Ireland duty had begun in earnest, he reckoned, for Munster’s Heineken Cup heroes.
The tourists are eyeing an opportunity to create history by recording their first win overt an All Black side whose coach, Graham Henry, is under considerable pressure to deliver against Ireland, following his side’s dismal quarter-final exit from the World Cup.
By early today Quinlan will find out, after a season of man-of-the-match awards for Munster, whether he’ll be in the fifteen aiming to break the All Blacks hoodoo. There is a sense that the Tipperary man’s time has come again, but whether Ireland’s time has arrived to beat the All Blacks remains to be seen. Getting close - as the Irish have done in recent history - isn’t considered good enough anymore.
“The mentality changed in Irish rugby a couple of years ago,” Quinlan explains. “We didn’t believe that we could win these kind of games. It’s a hard one, because the All Blacks will always be favourites when they play Ireland. But we play every game to win and Saturday will be no different.
“We’ll certainly try our best to win the game, but I think we want to try to get a good performance. You need a lot of luck when you play New Zealand, especially away from home. As a team we need a lot of things to go our way. But there is a confidence and a belief within Irish players in the last number of years that if we play to our potential, we certainly have a good chance.”
Against the backdrop of a season when Munster and Leinster excelled, Ireland’s performance curve went in the opposite direction. And, for reasons known only to Eddie O’Sullivan, Quinlan wasn’t given the opportunity to affect Ireland’s poor performance graph.
“The World Cup was certainly disappointing, but everyone has drawn a line under that now, and maybe the Six Nations as well. It was up to us as players and individuals to get back with our clubs and have a good season with Munster and Leinster.
The success of the provinces gave us a bit of confidence and a bit of belief that Irish rugby isn’t all that bad and you have to put up with the good times and the badtimes.
“Certainly it was a difficult year to be involved with Ireland but it was nice to do well with the clubs, and gives us a spring in our step after a long hard season.”
Quinlan arrived in New Zealand as the form No 6 in the northern hemisphere. He has had seasons disrupted by injury, and while this season was no different (a six-week layoff in late November to early January), he is playing the rugby of his life.
“I’ve had a lot of frustrations with different things over the years with injuries,” he says. “It’s been a good season personally and the most important thing is for me to be back playing again and try to get a bit of consistency and I’ve had a relatively injury-free season.”
Like all of Munster’s international contingent, Quinlan had to cut the Heineken Cup celebrations short, but he isn’t complaining. It’s clear he would love to be given his chance against a team, he admits, are the ultimate challenge for any rugby player.
“It’s the life of a professional player, isn’t it?” he says.
“For any of us picked here after the success of Munster we’re delighted to be on tour. It means you are doing something well and to be picked for Ireland is a great honour.
“I’m sure for the new players coming into the All Blacks, when those guys get an opportunity to put on the jersey, they will very proud as well. We’re no different.
“Hopefully, we can gel the confidence and the performances of the club teams together on Saturday and bring us forward.
“It’s going to be a difficult game – it always is. That’s the reality of it when you play the All Blacks home or away: it’s always a massive game.”
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