IRELAND CAPTAIN BRIAN O’Driscoll was understandably a disappointed man when he faced the media after this morning’s 42-10 defeat to New Zealand.
He had led his team in the first of three tests against the World Champions in their first game since lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in the same stadium in October.
Whereas the 2011 incarnation hobbled over the line in 8-7 win over France, this was a newly polished version of the All Blacks. With Julian Savea added to the ranks (he would mark his debut with no less than a hat-trick) and fit again Dan Carter pulling the strings at fly half.
“I’ve seen them play pretty well a few times.” Lamented O’Driscoll as the task of beating the Kiwis for the first time now appeared more daunting than ever, “yeah, they played well today. For a team that hasn’t had an outing since the World Cup that was a good standard.
“But I think we probably helped a little bit in the amount of turnovers we conceded. They’re definitely one of the best teams in the world on turnover football, they made us pay a couple of times.”
Considering the totemic figures of Paul O’Connell and Mike Ross missing from the pack and a the back line re-jigged by the selection of Keith Earls at inside centre, Ireland began the game brightly. Declan Kidney’s side attacked from deep and committed to off-loads to break the black wall, but when the gates open, they are difficult to shut.
“It’s a considerable step up from the provincial stuff. I haven’t played in the Six Nations,” he said referring to the shoulder surgery which had him sidelines from November to March.”From the Heineken Cup, test match football is exactly that, it’s a serious step up.
“(New Zealand) bring a really good intensity and tempo. They try and keep the ball in play as much as they possibly can and back themselves.
“Some of their scores, we didn’t help ourselves, but they definitely created a few too. I don’t know whether it was a 32 point game but they were considerably worthy winners anyway.”
After winning a third Heineken Cup title in four years, the 33-year-old admitted it was a difficult to adapt to playing on the back foot
“It felt as they were playing very much front foot. And when you’re constantly on the back foot it’s hard to change that momentum. You need a big hit or you need a turnover. We tried hard and some guys really stepped up to the plate. People like Sean O’Brien tried hist best at ruck time, but…”
He trailed off, the result spoke volumes.
Traditionally, the first test of a series has been the best opportunity to beat New Zealand. However, this performance was as punishing as they come. Cian Healy and Keith Earls both left the field early with shoulder injuries. A slight hamstring strain should not rule Declan Fitzpatrick from the second test, though Ross’ return might.
O’Driscoll vowed to take the positives into the remaining fixtures of the season, but admitted the Silver Fern intensity was difficult to cope with.
“The intensity they brought was something that we struggled with (and) at times we struggled with getting numbers around the corner with the speed of their ruck ball.
“So we definitely have to look at that ability to stick in the tackle a little bit more and do something at the breakdown. Because everyone knows it’s the winning and losing of a game: if you slow your opponents ruck ball, you’re half way there.”
Ireland were well short of being half way to the World Champions’ standard.
- Additional reporting by Pat McCarry