There is no danger of Ireland basking in the glow of their Chicago success when they face the All Blacks again this Saturday in Dublin.
Sean Cronin has already experienced an All Black backlash, being part of the 2012 team hammered 60-0 in Hamilton a week after merely running New Zealand close in Christchurch. So, the hooker can guess the fury that Kieran Read’s team will bring to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening following Ireland’s momentous 40-29 victory at Soldier Field 10 days ago.
“There’s a good example, if you didn’t want to look back too far,” Cronin said. “We came close the week beforehand and went out and let ourselves down the following week. They ran riot, so there’s a perfect example. If you didn’t want to be too complacent, have a look back at that match.”
Having made their performance in finally beating the All Blacks a benchmark for all that follows, Cronin believes Ireland are duty-bound to back it up against the same opposition just a fortnight later or risk taking the gloss off that first victory in 29 attempts.
“It’s all about looking forward. The result was fantastic, but yeah, it probably would [take the gloss off]. If you look back at teams that have played New Zealand and put in a performance and managed to beat them, there’s always been a serious backlash.
“You can see that in the Rugby Championship with Australia and South Africa. We’re on high alert this weekend. They’re going to be massively up for the game and might have a few key players coming back who are world class. That’s going to add even more to the quality of their team, but yeah, it’s all about this week. There’s no looking back to Chicago.”
To that end, consistency is key, said Cronin: “[It’s] something that we’ve been trying to really plug the last couple of seasons. If you want to be respected on the world stage you’ve got to bring that consistency of performance. There’s no point in having that result, a flash in the pan. It’s great, it’s fantastic to get that win off the back after the 111 years, but we’re a team that’s looking to be respected by other nations in terms of our consistency and our level of performance, so it’s a big driving factor for us.”
Cronin reported a “good bite” in training since the November 5 victory, which carried into last Saturday’s big win over Canada in Dublin, a game marked by Test debuts for eight Ireland players and the return to international rugby after lengthy spells on the sidelines for back-rowers Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony.
Ireland team manager Mick Kearney announced a clean bill of health for Joe Schmidt’s squad, the return to availability of forward Iain Henderson and the release back to Munster of loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne and wing Darren Sweetnam. He also declared the mood in the camp as the best he had seen in his soon-to-end five-year tenure.
“I think the match against Canada and awarding eight new caps was fantastic,” said Kearney. “There is a lot of competition among the squad, and there’s a lot of youth among the squad.
“I think the average age of the back-line on Saturday was about 24. To see new guys come in, I think it adds energy to the group, as much as anything else. It’s really good to see competition for places. I’d say at the moment, in the five years that I’ve been involved, it’s probably the best I’ve seen.”
Yet, Cronin and the entire squad of players and management are adamant that they will need to be better than they were in beating the All Blacks first time around, their performance in Chicago not spared a critical eye from Schmidt and his assistants, despite the joyous outcome.
“It was quite pleasing in some factors of the game, Andy [Farrell, defence coach] got into us a bit over how soft the tries that we conceded were. We didn’t have to put them under too much pressure and they didn’t have to break us necessarily to get over for their scores, which was a bit frustrating. Other areas of the game were right up there, which maybe kept us ticking over nicely. Their discipline on the day I don’t think will be as bad, as well, this weekend; they gave away a lot of penalties, which probably left us into the game as well. He was happy enough, but there’s always areas to improve on with Joe.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved