THERE IS A serious sense of déjà vu here in New Zealand as the Irish team are spoken of in polite terms by their opponents but specifics are not forthcoming.
Take a query, posed to an All Black player, about Paul O’Connell’s absence from the squad for example.
The player in question was surprised by the fact that the Munster man was not here for three-Test tour.
The All Black added, “He has played a number of Tests for Ireland for a number of years and is a key member of their squad. But, in saying that, it opens up a door for another guy who will, no doubt, be keen and excited.”
All very vague. All very Australian.
The Wallabies’ Radike Samo made the mistake of admitting he had never heard of Sean O’Brien days before Ireland beat them at the Rugby World Cup.
One wonders if ‘another guy’ will leave a similar, bruising impression when he takes to the field as O’Connell’s replacement.
The sore thumb
Almost every New Zealand player will eagerly tell you how excited he is to take on ‘the legend’ Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney gets a few mentions as a guy to watch out for.
The rest of the Irish squad are ladened with compliments about their passion, fight and spirit but names do not spring readily to the mind.
One player that has merited a few mentions, by the New Zealand media at least, has been Munster winger Simon Zebo.
Simon Zebo has the Kiwi’s attention. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
A Kiwi journalist at Monday’s press conference remarked that Zebo ‘stuck out like a sore thumb’ in the Irish training sessions and ‘could be one of ours’.
Subtlety, take a back seat.
Ireland’s assistant coach Les Kiss blinked at the journalist for a few moments before wisely focusing on Zebo’s outstanding form this season.
They picked Piri
New Zealand would rightly claim, however, that the focus should be on their players because, if they perform to their potential, Ireland will be in for a rough few weeks.
Eoin Reddan, fresh from a third Heineken Cup win (one with Wasps in ’07), is wary of the mercurial talents of Piri Weepu.
The scrum-half is in no doubt about the playing abilities of Weepu, the world champion’s incumbent number nine, who has not enjoyed a stellar club season with Auckland Blues.
“He is quite an intelligent footballer,” said Reddan. “New Zealand have really gone to him in times of trouble, like the World Cup, and he has delivered.” He added:
(Weepu) handled the pressure very well in a situation where he came in and was kicking instead of Dan Carter. One of his biggest strengths is that he plays what he sees in front of him.
Reddan, suitably impressed when informed of Tiger Woods’ Memorial tournament win, says All Black Brad Thorn left a lasting impression on him during his short stint at Leinster:
Hungry for more
The 31-year-old told TheScore.ie that Leinster’s consecutive Heineken Cup wins has geared much of the squad up for a final push.
“Players are in good form and are in high spirits,” he said. “Questions about long seasons and stuff like that evaporate into the distance when you’re going well and enjoying your rugby.” Reddan added:
A lot of the provinces, like Ulster, have done very well and it means people have come here very fresh, looking to push on, and achieve something new this summer.
* You can follow all the latest news, comments and goings on from the Irish camp by following @patmccarry on Twitter and by regularly checking in with TheScore.ie.