THE ALL BLACKS arrived in Ireland this week on the back of a 13-game winning streak and having never been beaten by Ireland, but that only means that opportunity knocks for the home side.
That’s according to legendary New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick, a World Cup winner in 1987. The former Auckland stalwart has been following the All Blacks’ form closely this season, and recognises that they are a powerful force.
However, the 50-year-old is quick to point out that Ireland’s history of never having beaten the All Blacks is there to be altered, a greater motivator than anything else he could imagine.
“If I was an Irishman, I’d think, ‘Fantastic, I can be one of the first guys who beats the All Blacks.’ It is like a freebie isn’t it?”
New Zealand’s mental strength and sheer confidence in their abilities are just a couple of the factors which separate them from the chasing pack. Despite that inner belief that they are the best in the world, Fitzpatrick argues that there is no lack of awareness of Ireland’s strengths.
There’s a huge respect for Ireland. Over the years, it’s traditionally been a difficult game. It doesn’t really matter what happened for Ireland against Australia because they’re playing the All Blacks next as the game of their lives.
“We expect a hard-fought game. It’s never an easy game against Ireland. I’ve played here a few times and it’s always one of the harder games we’d play, physically. You have to get yourself up for it mentally.
“Look at England last Saturday, once they realised it was just human beings that they were up against, physically they took us on and that’s what Ireland need to do. They need to believe they can beat the All Blacks.”
Fitzpatrick (right) with Keith Wood and the World Cup. ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan.
Ireland’s record of no wins in 27 games against the All Blacks will be a driving force in their mental preparation, but Fitzpatrick suggests that the opposite is also true; no Kiwi player wants the label of having lost to Ireland.
“It’s pretty important. You don’t want to be involved in the first team that loses the record. That’s very much a fear. The guys that will be given the responsibility on Sunday, there’s a lot of history and it’s about winning every game for us.
“My father lost to the Welsh in 1953 and never got over it. So I can imagine the guys won’t want to be involved in the first ever All Black team that loses to Ireland. Munster in 1978 is still talked about, it’s folklore. It really was phenomenal. I’ve heard they’ve even done a play on it!”
A former captain of the side, Fitzpatrick is well placed to compare and contrast the particular skills of this version of the All Blacks to what has gone before. The 92-times capped hooker believes that the current squad has every right to claim to be the best ever.
They’re a mature, experienced team and they’ve got decision makers in the right positions. The kid Retallick is phenomenal. He’s been inducted in very well. Hansen’s done a great job of bringing those young guys in. [Liam] Messam has had a huge season and we talk about Kieran Read, [Richie] McCaw, Aaron Smith at nine.
“They played ok against France. I thought they played really well [against England]. England did rattle them, they put them under pressure and then the All Blacks gave away penalties. Read got sin binned, he’ll be horrified about that. It was a stupid penalty when he got binned.
“And the All Blacks pride themselves on not making mistakes individually. As soon as they made mistakes, it allowed England back into the game. That was purely through what England were doing at the breakdown area.”
The template is there for Ireland, as is the possibility of a win that will never be forgotten by this country’s rugby folklore. Fitzpatrick believes that the All Blacks will come through this test to extend their winning run, but says Ireland have nothing to lose on Sunday.
“They must throw the kitchen sink as we say in New Zealand.”
- Sean Fitzpatrick is a Rugby Ambassador for DHL, who have transported the William Webb Ellis Cup to Dublin ahead of the inaugural IRB World Rugby Conference. Follow DHL Rugby’s latest events on Twitter.