No caps will be awarded for Friday’s historic encounter between New Zealand Maori and Ireland, but both camps feel there will be a Test-like intensity to proceedings at Rotorua International Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time).
The British & Irish Lions’ clash with New Zealand Maori in 2005 was billed as virtually ‘a fourth Test’, and Ireland head coach Declan Kidney feels Friday’s match can be bracketed in the same category for his tourists.
“Every time a side tours New Zealand, the game against the Maori is always known as the fourth Test. You know for the Lions, if they’re playing a three-Test series,” said Kidney.
“This is the way we see it – it’s like another Test match for us.”
Kidney is preparing his charges for a big challenge from the Maori, whom he expects to adopt an open, running style as they look to build on last weekend’s 37-31 win over the New Zealand Barbarians.
“That’s what we expected going into the last match as well, that’s the way the Super 14 matches have been played.
“Especially here (Rotorua International Stadium), you can see that there’s a lot of room on the touchlines, so unless the ball goes well out, teams are going to looking at ways of restarting the game.
“That’s the way the lineout has looked here, rather than a set platform for attack and we have to be sharp on defensive lineouts and chasing down kicks because the ball can be thrown in at any stage. And maybe we’ll look to do it ourselves once or twice.
“We’ll go out and try and play our own game. We have to be true to ourselves as well and I think that’s what the Maori would expect us to do.
“They will want us to be ourselves in the same way as they will be playing to their own strengths. We’ll try and throw the ball around, but we’ll try and throw it to ourselves after last weekend!”
The Maori needed a late try from winger Hosea Gear to see off the New Zealand Barbarians, who had fought back from 20-14 down to lead 31-30 going into the final stages in Whangarei.
Expecting an improved showing from this week’s opponents, Kidney added: “One match is worth five or six training sessions, so the Maori will be all the better for that match.
“They would have taken a look at the video, so I’m sure they will seal off anything they thought they were vulnerable with.”
The selected Ireland team will be captained by full-back Geordan Murphy, one of six players included who saw action off the bench against the All Blacks.
Shane Horgan and Jonathan Sexton, two late withdrawals for the recent Barbarians game in Limerick, return to first team duty, while the uncapped quartet of Johne Murphy, Ed O’Donoghue, Rhys Ruddock and Chris Henry will be hoping to stake their claims for a Test place.
With the tour’s final match against Australia just over a week away, the players are keenly aware that Test jerseys are up for grabs. A win too would be a nice confidence booster before attentions turn to Brisbane and the Wallabies.
“I think any time you put on a green jersey you want to win the match, that’s always first and foremost,” admitted Kidney.
“You can talk about good performances, but you’d always prefer a bad performance and a win than a good performance and a loss.
“After the match last weekend, you want to try and get a win under your belt as soon as possible, but you have to work towards it. There’s no secret remedy, it’s a case of hard work and doing the basics right.”
New Zealand Maori coach Jamie Joseph and his players are expecting Ireland to come out firing after their disappointing result against the All Blacks.
The words ‘fiery’ and ‘physical’ have been regularly used by the Maori set-up to describe the likely Irish approach, and the youngest player on the pitch, Ireland Under-20 captain Ruddock, will not be found wanting in the physical stakes.
Putting his confidence in the 19-year-old flanker, Kidney remarked: “I think physically he’s good. Rhys had a game the previous Tuesday and the previous Saturday (for the Under-20s), so he’s in good condition.
” He’s match fit and it was important if he came that he got some game-time. That’s why we said we’d give it to him here.”