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Countdown To Croker: Four Days To Go

Countdown To Croker: Four Days To Go

…Opportunity Knocks For Quinlan…Nonu Expecting Tough Encounter…Henry: Huge Game On The Cards…Say What?…Numbers Game…

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR QUINLAN: Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 Test against New Zealand will be just an 11th start in green for Munster’s long-time flanker Alan Quinlan.

Quinlan’s international career may have spanned nine years but since 2003, the Tipperary man’s chances have been limited due to ill-timed injuries and the sheer competition for places at this level.

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He has started just twice since he scored against Argentina at the 2003 Rugby World Cup and dislocated his shoulder in the process.

With two Heineken Cup medals in his back pocket and a clean bill of health, Quinlan knows this is chance he must take.

“This a great opportunity for me and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s very exciting for me because I’ve never started against the All Blacks before and it’s been a few years since I’ve played in such a big Test match,” he said.

“I played against them in 2002, I came on as a replacement in Auckland but never started a game against them.

“There’s been a few times that I’ve been injured. In 2006 after we won the Heineken Cup, we went on tour there and I missed out on playing them that time.

“A few months back when we toured there, I missed out with injury again.

“They’re a fantastic team and it’s a huge challenge for any player to go out and play against them. I’m really happy I’m getting the opportunity.”

Not many rugby players will be able to say they have played at Croke Park in their lifetime but for Quinlan, Saturday’s trip there will mean that bit more.

“Playing at Croke Park (for the first time), that’s certainly going to be special for me as well, coming from, I suppose, a GAA background.

Nicky English was onto me already, slagging me that he thought I’d never get to play at Croke Park.

“I went to see him play there so many times. I think he’s excited about coming to see me play there on Saturday. Hopefully it will be a good day for us. I’ll try and enjoy us.

“Certainly there’s great support from Tipperary and particularly from my club Clanwilliam. So I hope I don’t let anyone down!”

To watch Jim Sherwin’s interview with Alan Quinlan on Irish Rugby TV, please click here.

NONU EXPECTING TOUGH ENCOUNTER: Hurricanes centre Ma’a Nonu has been a pivotal presence in the New Zealand team throughout 2008, starting all of their six Tri Nations encounters against Australia and South Africa.

The powerfully-built 26-year-old had made the number 12 All Blacks jersey his own this year, with four tries in 10 starts.

He began the international season with a try in the 21-11 win over Ireland in Wellington and will be aiming for another victory over the Irish this weekend and another step towards the achievement of a Grand Slam tour.

Speaking at the team hotel this week in Dublin, Nonu spoke of the benefits of touring the UK and Ireland.

“I think you learn more when you come on tours. You get more experience the more game-time you get and then you keep playing well. That’s the main thing,” he said.

Having played against Ireland three times in the last three years, including a start in the 45-7 win at Lansdowne Road in November 2005, Nonu knows what Ireland can offer as opponents.

Of his recent viewing of Irish players, he said: “I’ve seen a few guys playing (this season), (Ronan) O’Gara and (Brian) O’Driscoll. I think (Luke) Fitzgerald has been playing well and their back-three are pretty sharp.

“(Rob) Kearney’s a great player, he played well against us in Wellington. I think he’ll be a tough opponent this weekend.”

When informed of New Zealand’s 21-match unbeaten run against Ireland, Nonu admitted he did know of the record and that it had not been spoken about in their camp.

“It’s always been there, that record that they haven’t beaten us. But if we concentrate on it, we’re taking away from the purpose of what we’re about.

“Every year the Irish get stronger and stronger, so it will be tough this weekend.”

HENRY: HUGE GAME ON THE CARDS: When New Zealand last visited Dublin in November 2005, they came away from a shellshocked Lansdowne Road with a 45-7 win. Their coach Graham Henry is expecting things to be a lot closer this time around.

Since that heavy defeat, Ireland have been closing the gap on the All Blacks, losing by 11 and 10 points respectively on the summer tour in 2006, and going down by 21-11 in Wellington last June.

Henry said: “There’s been some very close games. Wellington was a hell of a night, terrible weather wise.

“The actual games have been closer in New Zealand than they have been, in recent memory, over here.

“It’s a very fine Irish side at the moment and it will be a huge game at the weekend.”

Of course, one major change since June is that Ireland have their new coach Declan Kidney on board and Henry says that despite Kidney’s limited time with the squad so far, the transition has probably been a quick one.

“I think change sometimes brings the best out of a team, and it happens early. I think there’s probably a lot of examples of that.

“And although Declan’s a new coach at this level, most of the players he’s coaching he’s coached before. So they know each other.

“I’m guessing but he’s got maybe 60% of the side from Munster, maybe more, and most of the forward pack.

“I don’t think the transition will be too difficult for him.”

The weather had a big part to play in last weekend’s opening game of the GUINNESS Series 2008 when Ireland comprehensively beat Canada at a rain-soaked Thomond Park.

Heavy rain and strong winds may be in the offing again at Croke Park on Saturday but Henry is not too concerned.

“I guess it’s the team that switches onto those conditions and plays the conditions well will have an advantage.

I’d imagine the Irish play in those conditions quite a bit. So I guess it’s a matter of the grey matter working and playing the right tactics in those conditions on the day,” he added.


“As the game has evolved, so have McCaw’s techniques. You can see him doing different things now that he didn’t do before. You have to be on your toes to counteract everything he does.

“As an openside, he’s the best in the world. ‘It’s said he sometimes plays from an offside position, but I don’t agree with that.

“He just has little tricks up his sleeve – things that you might not even see unless you watch them several times over on the video.

“As players we all try to learn from each other. Hopefully, he’ll be looking at us to learn a few things as well.”

– Ireland flanker David Wallace speaks of his admiration for New Zealand number 7 and captain Richie McCaw, who will be his direct opponent at Croke Park on Saturday

“We need to make ourselves difficult to beat. The pressure isn’t so much on us because we’ve never beaten them.

“The pressure is on them so the best attitude for us is to see if we can put ourselves in a position to win by being hard to beat.

“If in the last ten minutes it’s a one-score game then it’s all to play for.”

– Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll says that the pressure is on New Zealand for Saturday’s autumn international and that his side need to make sure they are ahead or at least in touch with the tourists going into the closing stages of the game

“It’s the best team we can put on the track for this particular game.

“Most of these guys have played together in the Tri Nations so there’s a lot of combinations there that have won trophies, that’s a positive.”

– New Zealand coach Graham Henry discusses his team selection for Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 Test against Ireland


10 – The number of players in the Ireland starting line-up for Saturday’s Test who also started against New Zealand in Wellington last June.

They are Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Ronan O’Gara, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip

103 – The number of years that have past since the first Test match between Ireland and New Zealand. That game, which was played at Lansdowne Road back on November 25, 1905, saw the tourists gain a 15-0 win

11 – The number of players in the New Zealand team for Saturday’s Test who also started against Ireland in Wellington in June.

They are Mils Muliaina, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Neemia Tialata, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo