All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has warned his players to expect Brian O’Driscoll to have a massive impact on tomorrow’s Test against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Former Irish and Lions captain O’Driscoll, 34, will be playing possibly his last match against New Zealand before retiring at the end of the season having shaken off a calf injury to be named in Joe Schmidt’s starting XV for the final Test of the year.
And Hansen, who will send his side out looking to make it a perfect season with 14 wins and no defeats in 2013, said he expected O’Driscoll to spearhead an Irish-inspired “ding-dong battle”.
“He can definitely still have an influence in the game, he’s been a great player in the game,” Hansen said yesterday.
“In this part of the world you only have to see the reaction when Gats (Warren Gatland) didn’t select him in the Lions; he’s like a, I wouldn’t say he’s like a God but he’s pretty close to it.
“His contribution to Irish rugby, Irish sport and Ireland as a nation is immense.
“Often when we go to places that they don’t play rugby in people know who the All Blacks are and I think it’s a little bit the same with Brian.
“People have heard of him but may not have heard of Ireland.
“If you can do that you’ve done the job that your country needs you to do.
“He’s played some marvellous rugby, he’s 34 and to still be playing at 34 as an outside back with pace and guile and reactions are important.
“Again it says something about the man. He’s conducted himself, too, with a lot of class over a long period of time, he’s had his moments with New Zealand teams and I’m sure he would like to have a massive impact on the game.
“I think he’ll be right up for it along with all his mates so we’re expecting a real ding-dong battle.”
If Paul O’Connell has anything to do with it, Hansen’s expectation will become reality with the Ireland captain calling on his players to match the physicality and skill-set they showed when denying England a Six Nations Grand Slam with a rousing performance at the Aviva in March 2011, and which was sorely missing in last week’s defeat to Australia.
“That’s the level of accuracy and intensity we need,” O’Connell said. “One of the things over the last few years is that we haven’t combined the both.
“The accuracy just wasn’t there (against Australia) and if we want to play the best rugby we can, if we want to bring our talented players into the game, we need to be accurate at set-piece, we need to be accurate in our kick-chase, in our D, and how we start our plays. That is one of the frustrating things, for me, from last week.
“It’s something we spoke about a lot and we didn’t execute but I’d like to think we’ve addressed a lot of that. It’s getting a combination of that accuracy, detail, clarity with the intensity that’s required.”
Ireland v New Zealand: How they compare
Ireland: Went from dominance against Samoa to under the cosh against, of all packs, the Wallabies. Front rowers Healy, Best and Ross will have to get back on track and make an early impact on a new-look All Blacks front row to get Ireland on the front foot. 3/5
New Zealand: Looking a little vulnerable after creaking against Argentina, and coming under pressure from both the French and English, when they coughed up a couple of penalties but the All Blacks scrum is nothing if not durable, even if it is an all-new front row this week, with Tony Woodcock injured, Owen Franks benched and Keven Mealamu rested. 3½/5
Ireland: England got some traction with their driving maul off the lineout and caused some panic in the All Blacks ranks and Ireland will have to use their most potent weapon if they are to challenge the visitors. That means not losing the opening exchanges as they did against Australia. 3½/5
New Zealand: Out-hustled at times by England, and Courtney Lawes in particular. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick nevertheless won three lineouts late on, the second of which led to the winning try for Julian Savea. Retallick steps aside for the slightly shorter Luke Romano tomorrow, although incoming back rower Steven Luatua compensates. 3½/5
Ireland: Struggled to contain the Australians last week as the Ireland back row failed to get up to speed and Heaslip, O’Mahony and O’Brien have to up their games to slow high-tempo New Zealand down. England in 2012 showed that ferocity and relentless intensity can unsettle the All Blacks. 3/5
New Zealand: Richie McCaw and company are masters of hitting rucks hard and slowing opposition ball down but can annoy referees with persistent offending, such as last week when Kieran Read was binned when Craig Joubert’s patience ran out. McCaw said his side’s ball carriers were guilty of going to ground early in first half but they adapted as the game went on and it is up to oppositions to neutralise the threat. 4/5
Ireland: The tactical kicking game has not been up to scratch for Ireland this month, with the backs continually coughing up ball last week to Australia’s full-back Israel Folau. New Zealand have an even greater capacity to punish similar mistakes and Ireland must tread very carefully indeed. Question marks remain about Johnny Sexton’s ability to last the pace following his hamstring injury last week and Ian Madigan stands by on the bench. 3/5
New Zealand: The All Blacks kick strategically more than we tend to imagine and they have some very clever boots to find space rather than opponents, not least full-back Israel Dagg’s prodigious right foot. Injured fly-half Dan Carter will be missed but stand-in Aaron Cruden is a solid and reliable place-kicker. 4/5
Ireland: Tryless against the Australian a week after putting five past Samoa, Ireland lost their spark last Saturday with a frustratingly high error count and a lack of platform from the pack. There will be teething problems under the new regime, not helped by Johnny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney’s injury issues, and this may hamper any expansive intent. 3/5
New Zealand: Simply irresistible off fast ball with killer running lines, great support running, superb off-loading, wonderful athletes and clinical finishing. Patience is the key, and the ABs know exactly when to bide their time and when to pull the trigger, usually to devastating effect. 5/5
New Zealand: 20/25
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