The last time we were in the Crowne Plaza in Auckland it was the Lions tour in 2005. And the memory is clear of going across the road to the Convention Centre where the NZ rugby union made their pitch to us about how great it would be to have the 2011 World Cup in their country. Well we’re here now. And it’s make or break time for Ireland.
Today the gig was back across the road in the Crowne Plaza where the Aussies were announcing their team to play Ireland on Saturday. And there was a circus feel to it. On the one hand you had coach Robbie Deans who at the best of times is economical with his emotions. And beside him – among a range of other Wallabies – was Quade Cooper who you suspect might not be economical with anything.
The massively attended press conference was a mix of pursuing Cooper who of course is a Kiwi and as such is seen as a traitor to the cause, and trying to get something usable out of Deans about the Irish game. The coach had to bite his lip about some of the crap thrown at his outhalf, but when it came to questions on Ireland he looked comfortable that his lot have what it takes to make it five World Cup wins out of five against Ireland.
From my experience of the Aussies, going back to our tour there in 1994, they find it hard to believe we will ever beat them when it matters. The stats back up their self assurance. In 15 Tests starting with that ’94 opener in Brisbane we’ve beaten them just twice, and both of them in wet November games in Dublin at the end of their season.
So they factor in Ireland’s struggle to get enough things right in any Test this year – bar the Six Nations win over England- and they conclude that nothing will change.
The only thing that makes me question them is the belief that Ireland have a big game buried somewhere in them.
If they don’t deliver it on Saturday then we’re faced with having to beat Italy to get out of the pool. If it comes to pass that we lose on Saturday, beat the Italians and then lose in the quarters, you should recognise that for what it would be: failure. Beating Italy, who we look at in the way the Aussies look at us (15 straight wins since they their three in a row over us in the mid 1990s) is no achievement for a team who aspire to Top 5 status in international rankings.
So discovering where the ammo is hidden and unloading on the Aussies is as urgent as it gets. And our only chance is to do to them what the Crusaders did to the Reds in the Super 15 final. And even then – as it was for the Crusaders – it might not be enough. At the Irish press conference yesterday both Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien gave the clear impression that neutralising David Pocock was top of their agenda. I hope they don’t spend all their time chasing him because it’s like trying to loosen a leech.
By all means hammer him but focus on getting into the space before he does. Especially when Ireland are defending. The way to stop Quade Cooper is to stop Will Genia. And the way to stop Genia is at the breakdown to drive through the gate and into the space, and then into Genia himself. And that will frustrate Pocock as much as Genia. And it will spread.
Referee Bryce Lawrence is amenable to this. And if it’s done right then it will even appeal to him, for the breakdown has been a disgracefully poor area for referees in this World Cup. He could have his name appended to a unique example of rucking within the laws.
If in the first few minutes in Eden Park you don’t see Ireland upsetting Aussie rhythm like this then it’s over for us. And you’ll see more mistakes piled high by a team who keep telling us they know what’s wrong and that they know how to fix it. Do it now!