Well, Joe Schmidt has made some changes in the Irish team for the match against New Zealand on Sunday (2pm). One of the changes has being due to injury while other changes relate to loss in form for certain players.
There were injury concerns about Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Sexton earlier in the week but luckily all 3 have being passed fit to play. Fergus McFadden will be out for a few weeks with a broken hand so his place on the wing is taken by David Kearney. This will be a huge match for Kearney, who’s only making his 3rd appearance and his 2nd start.
Gordon D’Arcy makes his return to the side, with centre Luke Marshall togging out for Ulster earlier today against Edinburgh (Ulster won, 41-17). Schmidt must feel that D’Arcy’s greater experience will be an asset for the match as Marshall is seen as 1 of the stars of the future.
Conor Murray returns to the starting line-up and Eoin Reddan is dropped altogether, with Isaac Boss taking the subs bench. This is Boss’s first appearance in the Ireland squad for the Guinness/November Series. None of the scrum-halves have done very well so far. Murray needs to be much improved against New Zealand.
Luke Fitzgerald also makes his first appearance in the squad, on the subs bench. The Irish pack is the same from the Australia test. The pack have a major contest on their hands, especially Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien. Both their opposing numbers are considered to be the top players in their respective positions.
New Zealand captain and No.7, Richie McCaw is considered 1 of the best players in the world and has been for the last 10 years (he’s the only player to have won 3 IRB Player of the Year awards, no other player has even won 2. McCaw beat Brian O’Driscoll to 2 of those awards). Ireland’s Sean O’Brien will have his hands full opposing such a quality player.
All Black no. 8, Kieran Reed has been nominated for the IRB P.O.T.Y. award for his tremendous performances in the Super Rugby and Rugby Championship tournaments this year (Fellow New Zealander, centre Ben Smith has also been nominated. Along with Lion full-back Leigh Halfpenny. I’d pick Halfpenny!)
New Zealand have had made several changes to their side that beat England last weekend. The most significant is the loss of Dan Carter at no.10. Carter was injured in the English game and his place is been taken by Aaron Crude. Carter would be a huge loss for any team but New Zealand have a very powerful side even without him.
New Zealand are going for a record 14 wins out of 14 matches. If the All Blacks beat Ireland it would mean that they won every game they played in the same calendar year, the first team to do so. Ireland came close in 2009 (the year we won the Grand Slam but our record was marred by a draw against Australia. Still, we finished that year undefeated! That seems a very long time ago).
Ireland’s chances seem almost non-existent at this stage. The record doesn’t really need repeating (but, no wins, 1 draw and 26 losses?!). The 10-1 odds the betting shops are giving Ireland seem very generous. The most we can look for is not to be embarrassed/embarrassing (the last match ended 60-0 to the All Blacks).
(Speaking of embarrassing: some new information relating to the Australia game has come out during the week. It seems that several Australian players had been socialising in the week before our game against them and were subsequently suspended from the Wallaby squad (15 in all). This harks back to rugby’s amateur days where players would often go out drinking in the days leading up to a test match (sometimes even the night before the game!). The irony is that it was Ireland who played like they had been the ones out socialising, in that game!
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 David Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (capt), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy. Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald