Everyone has an opinion on Irish rugby and none more so than the army of rugby bloggers that write so passionately about the game. Today we have invited prolific blogger and all-round rugby nut, Jeff Pagano, to give us his thoughts on Ireland’s three-match tour to New Zealand. Better known by his blog name of ‘HarpinOnRugby’, he is a self confessed Leinster and Ireland fanatic! Over to you…
An Irish rugby season that began all the way back on August 6 at Murrayfield comes to an end over the coming weeks with the most daunting of tasks for Declan Kidney’s men – a three match series against the World champions New Zealand in their own back yard.
But although the latest World Cup and Six Nations campaigns didn’t exactly have happy endings for the national team, there were plenty of positives to draw on elsewhere to help prepare for a trio of Test matches where we have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Back home this has arguably been the most succesful season ever for the provinces, with all four claiming some measure of success.
Connacht had their highest ever finish in the RaboDirect PRO12, Munster’s stars of the future lifted the British & Irish Cup, Ulster got to their first Heineken Cup final in over a decade and of course Leinster won it for the third time in four years.
Then on the Monday evening just gone we saw the amazing heroics of Mike Ruddock’s Ireland Under-20s when they gave the seniors a perfect demonstration of how to beat a southern Hempisphere side on their own patch with their much-deserved 23-19 victory over the Baby ‘Boks at the IRB Junior World Championship.
So despite the fact that the squad will be missing Grand Slam heroes like Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe due to injury, skipper Brian O’Driscoll will know he’ll have plenty of talent and experience out on the pitch with him to try and do what no Irish national team has done before…defeat the mighty All Blacks.
When it comes to the opposition, Ireland will know exactly what to expect. With the squad already well into a tough Super Rugby campaign, even if their marquee names like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw don’t feature in every Test, they still have a host of rising talent coming up behind them, all of whom will be playing for their places in the revamped Tri Nations which has added Argentina this season and begins in August.
So the question Irish fans need to ask is…can we be succesful in this series? I thoroughly believe we can. If we can target the first Test and play with even half the passion and intensity shown by the Under-20s, we will definitely give New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, facing his first game in charge, something to think about.
And it’s not like we haven’t shown this season we can do it against the best in the game – who can forget our convincing displays against both Australia and France?
Since I first learned about this series I have believed that Ireland could make history and win the first Test. After that, who knows what we could achieve.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part and I’m ignoring both our formbook and our injury list, but I’m still retaining that belief regardless. If the boys in green can go out with that same belief at Eden Park, who knows what we can achieve?