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Countdown To Croker: Five Days To Go

Countdown To Croker: Five Days To Go

…O’Connell: The Gap Is Closing…Muliaina Looking Forward To Croke Park Experience…Test Match Recall…Say What?…Numbers Game…

O’CONNELL: THE GAP IS CLOSING: Paul O’Connell is well-placed to weigh up how next Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 Test between Ireland and New Zealand could go, given his past experience of playing the All Blacks.

The Munster lock has faced down the Haka on seven occasions to date – four times for Ireland and three times for the British & Irish Lions, losing on each occasion.

Ireland’s record against the Kiwis reads 1 draw and 20 defeats but they have almost been getting closer to that prized first win with each passing season – the last three defeats have been by 11, 10 and 10 points respectively.

O’Connell said: “I think it would be a big regret for a lot of us if we didn’t beat the All Blacks at some stage in our careers, whether it comes this week or some day in the future. They’re a great side.

“Historically with Irish teams, their fitness would have been poor against these guys, but I think we’ve bridged that gap now as well.

“These last few years when we played them we’ve never competed against them as consistently as we have in the last few years. It’s hard to tell what would happen, but we’d be hoping for something to happen.”

Cautious optimism is swirling around the Irish camp as the Declan Kidney factor and a return to Croke Park bolsters the team’s search for that elusive victory.

“Whenever we’ve played the All Blacks, we’ve always done okay against them. We’ve always competed very well and always been there or thereabouts at the end,” O’Connell added.

“We just need to get that little bit of something to get us over the line.”

What that extra ingredient is remains to be seen but the Munster captain agreed that Kidney will have his men psychologically right for the battle.

“I talk about it with the Munster teams. By the time I came into the Munster set-up I expected to win every game I played in.

“There was a time when Anthony (Foley), Gaillimh (Mick Galwey), Claw (Peter Clohessy) and Quinny (Alan Quinlan) played with Munster and they didn’t expect that to happen.

“Then they had a season around 1999/2000 where the whole psyche of the team kinda changed.

“You get to the stage now where Keith Earls comes in (with Munster), not just expecting to win every game but he expects to win a Heineken Cup.

“That’s where we need to get to with Ireland and that’s a very hard thing – to change the attitude of the mindset of people and the psyche of people. That’s where we need to get to.”

MULIAINA LOOKING FORWARD TO CROKE PARK EXPERIENCE: You would forgive New Zealand full-back Mils Muliaina if he had conflicting emotions ahead of Saturday’s clash with Ireland. His new baby son was born with a hole in his heart and the 29-year-old only joined the All Blacks tour over the weekend.

But while admitting it was difficult for him to break away from family life, his wife Hayley gave her blessing for Muliaina to join up with the squad and doctors treating baby Max have assured him the condition is common and treatable.

With his mind back on rugby for the time being, the Chiefs star is eagerly awaiting his chance to run out at Croke Park next weekend.

“It’s going to be awesome. We’ve visited (Croke Park) a couple of times when we’ve been over here. We were there for a function the last time,” he said.

“Obviously it’s not the same sort of ground as Lansdowne, but it’s going to be massive.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re on the job. Otherwise it’s going to be pretty loud!”

Muliaina anticipates a big contest as the teams go head-to-head for the second time this year. Their rain-hit Wellington encounter in June ended in a 21-11 All Blacks win.

“We’ve had a look at the Irish on video. They’ve got some young talent coming through, especially in the outside backs.

“You’ve just got to think back to the night we played them in Wellington. They were pretty competitive on a night that wasn’t too good (weather wise).

“We watched them play against Canada. They’re going to be pretty aggressive, I think the breakdown is going to be tough.

“We’ll have to try muscle up there and be physical. It’s going to be a tough game overall.”

Asked if he felt it would be the most difficult game of the Kiwis’ UK and Ireland tour, he said: “I think it’s definitely going to be up there. They’re going to be pretty fired up and I think the Irish, from what we’ve seen, are a really good attacking side.

“We looked at clips from the Aussie game (in June) and they were running the ball from their own line.

“It’s hard to say whether it’s going to be the hardest of the next three to come, but it’s definitely going to be up there.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re on the job. It’s going to be a massive challenge and an exciting one too because we’re playing at the different venue, which hopefully is going to be sold out.”

Pressed on who he views as Ireland’s biggest threats in the backs, Muliaina picked out Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll.

“Without a doubt it would have to be Brian. He’s a world class player and we’ve seen in the past what he can do. His leadership skills are top notch too.

“He would definitely be one of the threats. Obviously with (Ronan) O’Gara as well, they run a pretty good ship.”

TEST MATCH RECALL: Ireland and New Zealand have met on 21 occasions in senior internationals. The All Blacks have recorded 20 wins, with Ireland’s best result being a 10-10 draw at Lansdowne Road back in January 1973.

The Kiwis boast a winning sequence of 15 Tests between November 11, 1974 and last June.

Previous Ireland v New Zealand Tests –

2008: New Zealand 21 Ireland 11, Westpac Stadium
2006: New Zealand 34 Ireland 23, Waikato Stadium; New Zealand 27 Ireland 17, Eden Park
2005: Ireland 7 New Zealand 45, Lansdowne Road
2002: New Zealand 15 Ireland 6, Carisbrook; New Zealand 40 Ireland 8, Eden Park
2001: Ireland 29 New Zealand 40, Lansdowne Road
1997: Ireland 15 New Zealand 63, Lansdowne Road
1995: Ireland 19 New Zealand 43, Ellis Park
1992: New Zealand 24 Ireland 21, Carisbrook; New Zealand 59 Ireland 6, Athletic Park
1989: Ireland 6 New Zealand 23, Lansdowne Road
1978: Ireland 6 New Zealand 10, Lansdowne Road
1976: New Zealand 11 Ireland 3, Athletic Park
1974: Ireland 6 New Zealand 15, Lansdowne Road
1973: Ireland 10 New Zealand 10, Lansdowne Road
1963: Ireland 5 New Zealand 6, Lansdowne Road
1954: Ireland 3 New Zealand 14, Lansdowne Road
1935: Ireland 9 New Zealand 17, Lansdowne Road
1924: Ireland 0 New Zealand 6, Lansdowne Road
1905: Ireland 0 New Zealand 15, Lansdowne Road


“It is a glitch, but we’re going to beat New Zealand sooner rather than later, not a shadow of a doubt. The gap that was once between us has now closed so much.

“In fact, of all the Ireland teams I can remember, this one has a huge amount of confidence and self belief.

“And while the players have been rocked on a few occasions, I think they can beat New Zealand this time.”

– Former Ireland hooker and captain Keith Wood, who scored two tries in the 40-29 defeat to New Zealand in 2001, feels that Saturday could be the day that the men in green finally beat the All Blacks

“They are the Tiger Woods of rugby, and that’s the brilliant thing for the challenge for us (next week).

“The more often we get to play them, we’re the better for it. But like I said before, if you go on the rankings system, we’re in for a hiding. Let’s just see what happens.”

– Ireland coach Declan Kidney looks forward to taking on the All Blacks in Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 Test at Croke Park, although with the IRB World Rankings have Ireland eighth and the tourists first, Graham Henry’s men are undoubtedly favourites on paper

“This is as good a chance as any for the Irish, but wins against New Zealand are really hard to come by.

“I’d like to think the All Blacks will continue their winning streak, but the game might be a lot closer than people expect.”

– Munster winger Doug Howlett is expecting a close game between Ireland and New Zealand. Howlett remains the All Blacks’ record try scorer (49 tries) 


13 – The average number of points Ireland have scored in their last five Test matches against New Zealand. Their highest tally during that period was in the 34-23 loss to the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium in June 2006

7 – The number of tries Ireland have scored in their last five Test matches against New Zealand.

Marcus Horan scored the only one when the All Blacks claimed a 45-7 win on their last visit to Dublin in November 2005, while Gary Longwell, Brian O’Driscoll, Andrew Trimble, Jerry Flannery, Paul O’Connell and Paddy Wallace have all touched down in those last five games

50 – Brian O’Driscoll will captain Ireland for the 50th time in Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 encounter with New Zealand.

He has played for Ireland against the All Blacks on six previous occasions, and once infamously for the British & Irish Lions


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