The first of three successive opportunities to create Irish rugby history – beating New Zealand in a Test match – presents itself to Declan Kidney’s men this weekend when they take on the reigning Rugby World champions at Eden Park.
2012 SUMMER TOUR FIRST TEST: Saturday, June 9
NEW ZEALAND v IRELAND, Eden Park, 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time (live Sky Sports 2/RTÉ Radio 1)
Team News: The Ireland team The Ireland team to play New Zealand in the first Test of the summer tour has been named. The selected side includes two new caps with winger Simon Zebo and prop Declan Fitzpatrick making their first starts in the green jersey at this level.
Zebo, who is the youngest member of the touring squad at 22, starts on the left wing in a team that has an average age of just over 26.
There is a new centre partnership between Keith Earls and returning captain Brian O’Driscoll, who missed this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship due to injury.
Fergus McFadden starts on the right wing in a back-three that includes Zebo and Rob Kearney at full-back. Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray are paired together at half-back.
In the forwards, Fitzpatrick starts at tighthead prop after Mike Ross failed to recover sufficiently from the hamstring strain that has been bothering him over the last two weeks.
Ulsterman Fitzpatrick will start alongside loosehead prop Cian Healy and hooker Rory Best, who will be winning his 60th cap.
It will also be Dan Tuohy’s first start for Ireland in the second row after making his debut against the All Blacks as a replacement in June 2010 – he will partner Donnacha Ryan this time around.
Behind them, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip are all named to start in the back row.
Meanwhile, second row Brodie Retallick and backs Julian Savea and Aaron Smith are the new faces in the New Zealand team to play Ireland in the opening game of the three-match series.
In selecting the side, newly-appointed All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has gone for experience as well as the introduction of three new caps.
In the forwards, the hosts have an experienced front row of Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks, while new cap Brodie Retallick will join Sam Whitelock in the second row.
Victor Vito will don the number 6 jersey in the absence of the injured Jerome Kaino, and the back row is completed by captain Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.
In the backs, debutant scrum half Aaron Smith will have Daniel Carter outside him, while Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith link up in the centre.
Zac Guildford and Test newcomer Julian Savea will fill the wing berths, with the 12-times capped Israel Dagg selected at full-back.
This is New Zealand’s first Test match since they beat France 8-7 to win the Rugby World Cup on home soil last October.
In all, the Hansen-led management team have made eight changes in personnel to that final-winning fifteen, with the returning Hore and Carter boosting the side’s caps tally by a considerable 147.
Commenting on the team selection, Hansen said: “We picked them (the new caps) in the squad because they have all shown that they have special qualities which they now get the opportunity to show on the international stage.
“The build-up so far this week has been good. With such a short preparation time, we have focused on keeping things simple and bringing the team together.
“We have been concentrating on making sure we have clarity early in the week, increasing intensity and accuracy as the week goes on, which should allow us to put in a performance that we can be proud of on Saturday.”
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg (Crusaders); Zac Guildford (Crusaders), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs), Julian Savea (Hurricanes); Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Smith (Highlanders); Tony Woodcock (Blues), Andrew Hore (Highlanders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Richie McCaw (Crusaders) (capt), Kieran Read (Crusaders).
Replacements: Hikawera Elliot (Chiefs), Ben Franks (Crusaders), Ali Williams (Blues), Adam Thomson (Highlanders), Piri Weepu (Blues), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon/Ulster), Dan Tuohy (Ballymena/Ulster), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Ronan Loughney (Galwegians/Connacht), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), James Leckie (Australia)
Television Match Official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): New Zealand to win: 1/14; Draw: 40/1; Ireland to win: 8/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Rory Best (Ireland) – “We have fond memories of (beating Australia at Eden Park) nine months ago. We are well aware that it was a different tournament, a long time ago and a different team.
“The only thing that has stayed the same is the venue and even that has changed a bit. There are lots of positives that we can take from that win but we’re under no illusions that we have a completely different task ahead of us now.
“It was no great surprise that we won that game (against Australia). It was thrown around like it was some massive upset but we went into that game very confident and knowing we could win it.
“We are closing the gap (on the All Blacks) and we want it closed. It is a strange one from an Irish point of view as they are the only top tier team we haven’t beaten.
“We see ourselves as a very good team. We have a lot of faith in the ability of this squad.
“We have done all our homework on the All Blacks but need to get our stuff right. We would not turn up tomorrow if we were not confident of winning.”
Richie McCaw (New Zealand) – “I think it’s just exciting to be back in the black jersey and playing a Test match at home. It’s been a while since we’ve done that, and you can tell by the excitement of the guys here that we’re looking forward to it.
“It’s a whole new level and we’ve got to make sure that we meet that straight away. You do (get nervous) a little bit but good sort of nerves, I think.
“Probably excitement, more than anything. I think you get nervous about making sure you’ve done everything you can to get out and perform.
“It’s been the usual reasonably hectic week but I think we’re in a pretty good space. There’s only so much you can do – even if you had a bit more time, perhaps you could go over a few more things.
“Ireland have got some guys who have a lot of experience. When you’ve got guys like (Brian) O’Driscoll and (Ronan) O’Gara, that’s a lot of experience and they’ve been through a lot of different occasions.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2008: Summer Tour: New Zealand 21 Ireland 11, Westpac Stadium; Autumn Test: Ireland 3 New Zealand 22, Croke Park
2010: Summer Tour: New Zealand 66 Ireland 28, Yarrow Stadium; Autumn Test: Ireland 18 New Zealand 38, Aviva Stadium