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Countdown To Croker: Two Days To Go

Countdown To Croker: Two Days To Go

…Bowe Ready To Gauge Himself Against ‘The Best’…How To Respond To The Haka?…Smith: O’Driscoll Has Everything…Say What?…Numbers Game…

BOWE READY TO GAUGE HIMSELF AGAINST ‘THE BEST’: Having impressed for new club the Ospreys already this season and touched down twice in last weekend’s win over Canada, Ireland winger Tommy Bowe is evidently looking forward to the challenge of facing the world’s number 1 ranked team on Saturday.

Now a more muscular and streetwise version of the Monaghan youngster who scored on his debut against the USA four years ago, Bowe says that with the current surge of young talent coming through into the Ireland ranks, he almost feels ‘like an old man at just 24.’

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But he welcomes the competition for places in the Irish back-line, duelling with ‘some very exciting players’ for first team recognition.

And why not, because as he says himself he is clearly enjoying his rugby at the moment.

“Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. The move to Wales was definitely something different for me. It was a huge challenge, but so far I’m really relishing it,” Bowe told BBC Northern Ireland.

“I was happy with how I was able to transfer whatever bit of form I had (last weekend). They were horrible conditions against Canada but we came out with a 55-0 win and personally I was relatively happy, as we were as a team.”

Bowe is working with new coaches at both club and international level this season but the adjustment has been a welcome one and he is certainly feeling the benefit in the Irish camp.

“With Declan (Kidney) coming in, it’s added a breath of fresh air. Everybody’s feels like they’ve had a chance, with the few new guys coming in last week and a few new people in again this week.

“It’s added an air of optimism and keeps everybody on their toes.”

New Zealand’s last visit to Dublin in November 2005 saw them hammer Ireland 45-7 at Lansdowne Road in what was only Bowe’s fourth appearance at Test level.

It was an eye-opening experience and a day he would rather forget, like many of his team-mates.

Recalling that 2005 game, he said: “It was a frustrating day obviously. We missed Brian (O’Driscoll) and Paul (O’Connell) that day and we gave the All Blacks a comfortable victory.

“It’s not one I like to remember and I think it’s going to be a different kettle of fish this weekend.”

If Ireland can set out their stall early at Croke Park on Saturday, give the crowd something to cheer about and put Graham Henry’s men on the back foot on, Bowe feels a first ever win over the All Blacks could be theirs.

“On paper, they are the best team in the world, without a doubt, and have consistently been over the last number of years. They’re a great team to watch.

“But I think it’s going to be a great gauge to see how far we’ve come. With Declan here, it’s added an air of optimism and we have the players here to be able to try and upset these teams.

“With Munster and Leinster doing very well, there’s a lot of confidence in the squad.

“If we can get the crowd behind us this weekend and we can pull out a big performance, we could be making history hopefully.”

HOW TO RESPOND TO THE HAKA?: Talk of Ireland facing up to a haka and most people mention Willie Anderson and his defiant march towards Buck Shelford before the 1989 Test between Ireland and New Zealand at Lansdowne Road.

The Ulster giant shuffled his men towards the All Blacks, so they were almost face-to-face by the time the traditional pre-match dance had finished. The crowd loved it.

Since then, teams’ responses to the haka have varied from the regular, lining up and linking arms, to the 2005 Lions’ semi circle formation with skipper Brian O’Driscoll tossing a blade of grass into the air as a gesture of acceptance.

Then there was the proud T-shirt-wearing French and their ‘in your face’ attitude towards the haka at last year’s Rugby World Cup. It had the desired effect and the All Blacks were duly beaten.

On how Ireland will treat the haka on Saturday, coach Declan Kidney said: “The haka is just one of the great traditions of rugby. Everybody would be disappointed if it was removed – it’s part of the show. Everybody enjoys it.

“I wouldn’t be suggesting that we do a version of Riverdance or something! It’s just one of the traditions of rugby. We know the sequence of events and we’ll prepare. The anthems will be played, the haka will come in and then the real stuff starts.”

SMITH: O’DRISCOLL HAS EVERYTHING: New Zealand number 13 Conrad Smith may have successfully slithered away from Brian O’Driscoll to set up Sitiveni Sivivatu’s try in last June’s 21-11 win over Ireland in Wellington, but he still rates the Irish captain as one of the world’s best centres.

Both Smith and O’Driscoll are seen as attacking threats by the opposition for this weekend’s clash at Croke Park, and the Hurricanes ace is hopeful for a big game against the Irish after resting a slight groin injury.

He missed last Saturday’s 32-6 win over Scotland but is fully fit for what will be the second time he has squared off against O’Driscoll.

Smith said: “I have always rated Brian, obviously he is a great player from what I have seen. I have played Stirling (Mortlock) a lot more times.

“The two of them are what I consider and most people consider to be the best centres around so just in terms of how long they have been doing it as well is pretty impressive.

“Brian has got everything. He is great at the tackle, great at the breakdown where he is the benchmark in terms of the way he competes.

“Obviously on attack he is fast and powerful and he is a great distributor and I think midfielders and centres particularly have got to have a range of skills like that.”


“Even the teams in Ireland find that evening kick-offs work with Munster and work with Leinster, and they work for the supporters.

“I think the evening kick-offs for various reasons work better. People are all very happy around 5.15. Dunno why.”

– Ireland team manager Paul McNaughton shows his wry sense of humour when discussing evening kick-offs and how they effect teams (and supporters!)

“When you’re at home you tell people it’s different being an All Black in the northern Hemisphere – it’s the emotion and history these places have.

“My parents led me into it before I was an All Black. Some of the things they do here are just amazing – the national anthems are just another level, the crowd support, the passion the people have is huge.”

Ali Williams, the New Zealand lock, gives his view on what it means to tour in the northern Hemisphere and how passionate and fired up the home supporters are

“This will be a unique experience for some of the guys. You have to be realistic about what it’s going to be like…Croke Park, 80,000 people there.

“It’s going to as big and as passionate an occasion as probably any of these players have come across.

“With the backs I try and put a whole heap of mental pressure on them, randomising training – creating situations where they are liable to see errors. They’ve then got to cope and get themselves back on track.

“They’re going to be under the pump at times and in those moments you need to regain your composure.”

– All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith talks about the the experience of playing in front of 80,000 fans in a foreign country and what measures he has taken to make sure his players can cope with the Croke Park pressure


618 – The number of Test caps won to date by the players in the New Zealand starting line-up for Saturday’s Test match. Led by experienced flanker Richie McCaw, this is the third most-capped All Blacks team of all time

50 – If they retain their starting places or are used off the replacements bench, Donncha O’Callaghan and David Wallace will win their 50th Ireland caps in next week’s GUINNESS Series 2008 Test against Argentina. The Munster duo will both chalk up cap number 49 against the All Blacks

642 – The number of Test caps won to date by the players in the Ireland side for Saturday’s Test match. Girvan Dempsey (81), Brian O’Driscoll (86), Ronan O’Gara (85) and John Hayes (87) are all closing in on the 90-cap mark