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McNaughton Hopes Crowd Will Play Their Part

McNaughton Hopes Crowd Will Play Their Part

Ireland are hoping to have huge vocal backing from the Croke Park faithful as a backdrop to their GUINNESS Series 2008 Test against the All Blacks, team manager Paul McNaughton told a press conference on Thursday.

Emotions ran high when Ireland played at Croke Park for the first time in the spring of 2007, taking on both France and England in the Six Nations championship.

Saturday’s clash with New Zealand will see the Irish return to the Jones’s Road ground for the first time since March when they lost 16-12 to eventual title winners Wales.

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Given that this weekend’s game has a later kick-off of 5.15pm, it is encouraging to note that Ireland’s two previous evening starts at Croke Park have produced memorable wins – against England in 2007 (43-13) and Scotland last season (34-13).

With the floodlights on, an electric atmosphere spreading around the stands and Hill 16 and the belting out of ‘Amhran na bhFiann’, ‘Ireland’s Call’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’, Brian O’Driscoll and his team-mates will not be lacking for support as they chase Ireland’s first ever win over New Zealand.

Team manager Paul McNaughton said: “Lansdowne Road was a more intimate venue. I think we’ve seen what the crowd can do (at Croke Park) though.

“For instance, in the Ireland v England game in 2007 when the crowd got really behind the team – that’s really what we’re expecting and hoping for at an early stage.

“80,000 people is a big plus for us. I think the crowd will get behind us, like they did for that emotional game against England.”

Ireland have plenty of past disappointments against the All Blacks to motivate them for this latest meeting between the sides – the Kiwis have won the last 15 clashes since a 10-10 draw at Lansdowne Road in January 1973.

A couple of lapses in concentration, when Conrad Smith and Dan Carter made crucial line breaks which led to tries, saw Ireland slip to a 21-11 defeat to New Zealand last time out in Wellington.

The sides were level at 11-11 with 20 minutes to go during that June Test and if they work themselves into a similar situation on Saturday, McNaughton is confident his Irish troops will have the psychological strength to see out a prized win.

“We do have a poor record against New Zealand. We’ve never beaten them but a lot of the games have been very close. Many of the games have been won in the last ten minutes.

“The players have got a lot more confident in themselves over the last three or four years, in terms of their success in European Cups and their success in Magners League, so I don’t believe there is any psychological problem here.

“They are disappointed they haven’t taken any of their opportunities (against the All Blacks), and they certainly have had those over the past few years.

“The games have been close over there (in New Zealand) and the guys feel that they could have won two out of four of those games. It’s something they are disappointed about.”

McNaughton also emphasised the importance of a strong start on Saturday, just as Ireland managed last weekend against Canada.

But he agreed that the players will need a full 80-minute performance to stand any chance of posting their second win under new coach Declan Kidney.

“A good start is important for any team playing against quality opposition. We’ll try to do that, but, if we don’t get it, we’ll get another start,” he said.

“But Tests against the All Blacks are not won in the first ten minutes, they’ve been won in the last ten minutes so hopefully we’ll see a situation like that again on Saturday.”