Click here for photos as Ireland’s kickers, led by out-half Ronan O’Gara, go through their paces at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
Pictured above: Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara practices his kicking at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton in advance of the first Test against Graham Henry’s All Blacks.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw reckons the early stages tomorrow will be key as the Irish will undoubtedly come out of their corner fighting.
The 25-year-old said: “Ireland have go a lot of confidence in terms of how they played during the Six Nations. They’re a team that wants to get stuck in early, play with a lot of passion…so the first 10 minutes will be a real fight.”
Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan takes to the pitch at the Waikato Stadium. Ahead of the sides’ 19th Test meeting, the Corkman is determined that his side will stand toe to toe with the hosts.
He said: “We’re playing a team who are by and large the best team in the world and who understand the game very well. If you play badly against them or you show weakness against them, they will punish you.
“If you are not locked and loaded, you’ll get exposed and punished.”
Ronan O’Gara agrees that Ireland are a different team to consider when Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell are in the starting line-up. The talismanic duo missed last November’s 45-7 defeat at the hands of the All Blacks due to injury, but are back fit and ready for tomorrow’s clash.
O’Gara said: “You can replace the two lads (O’Driscoll and O’Connell) in terms of playing ability but presence is a huge thing in sport, leadership often underestimated. Paul is obviously the leader of the pack, Brian the leader of the backs.
“I felt there was a big void there (last November). A lot of responsibility fell on my shoulders. Against a quality, world class team like New Zealand it’s hard to carry that, and perform all your other duties. Fellas came in and did fine but you can’t do without your best players in top-level sport, and they are our best players – we need them.”
Ronan O’Gara is the twelfth Irish player to reach the 60-cap mark. He did so last time out in the Triple Crown triumph against England in March. His six-year Test career has seen him average 10 points per game – his current Irish record points tally stands at 607 points (8 tries, 96 conversions, 116 penalties and 9 drop goals).
Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy who will step in at number 10 if required at the Waikato Stadium tomorrow. The Kildare man explained: “I played at fly half in school with Newbridge. I have played a few games there with Leicester as well, and I felt quite comfortable. I was a fly half until I was 20, so it wouldn’t be anything really new.
“Also, I’ll be playing inside and outside some really special players, guys with plenty of brains and ability. If something were to happen (to Ronan O’Gara), I’m sure they will all lend a hand to make sure I settle in. I’m not proclaiming to be experienced at this level, but I know I will get the help from those around me.”
Ronan O’Gara in action at the Waikato Stadium. Tomorrow will see the All Blacks line out for a Test match in Hamilton for only the fifth time in their history. Of course, they boast a winning record in the North Island city.
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and coach Eddie O’Sullivan face questions from the press at today’s pre-match press conference.
The Irish squad have enjoyed a quiet build-up to the first Test, being based in Auckland for the week until their transfer south to Hamilton today. O’Driscoll said: “The welcome was a lot different to the Lions tour last year. I guess it’s been quieter. There weren’t 300 or 400 people at the airport, there were probably five or six.”
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**