Jim Kayes: Who can handle the quarterfinal pressure?

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Under their Kiwi coach Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time, with a 40-29 win in Chicago in 2016.

 

To prove it wasn’t a fluke they beat the All Blacks again, in Dublin, last year.

 

But Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks at a World Cup and are yet to get past the quarterfinals despite having played at all eight tournaments and making the playoffs six times.

 

They will need to do the first if they are to achieve the second in Tokyo on Saturday.

 

It is impossible to overstate the challenge.

 

The All Blacks haven’t lost a World Cup match since losing in the quarter final to France in 2007 - a run of 17 wins and a technical draw when last week’s game against Italy was abandoned because of the deadly typhoon.

 

It’s also rare for the All Blacks to lose consecutives Tests to the same opponent.

 

They lost three on the trot to South Africa in a horrible year in 2009 and having lost to England in London at the end of 2002 they were beaten again in Wellington seven months later (then won nine consecutive tests).

They also lost to Australia in Wellington in Wellington in 2000 then back-to-back Tests in Dunedin and Sydney the following year.

 

It shows how a defeat motivates the All Blacks.  We saw that with the change from Perth to Auckland this year against the Wallabies.

 

We saw it in 2016 when they lost to Ireland in Chicago then beat them in a spiteful Test in Dublin two weeks later.

 

It’s why All Blacks prop Joe Moody admitted this week the All Blacks “owe” Ireland after last year’s loss.

 

"At the same time, it's not something we dwell on or focus on,” Moody said. “They have got a couple up on us in recent history but at the same time it wouldn't matter who you play this week we have to win."

 

Under Schmidt Ireland have become a team that commands respect - victories against the All Blacks do that - and Schmidt is widely regarded as one of the game’s best coaches.

 

He had a 75 percent win rate at Leinster and has guided Ireland to three Six Nations titles and to No1 in World Rugby’s ranking as they flew to Japan for the World Cup.

 

But there are questions Ireland will need to answer if they are to beat the All Blacks.

 

Firstly, how will they cope with the pressure of playoff rugby?

 

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had a wee dig at that earlier this week.

 

"I particularly enjoy what we're going into," he said. "It's a big pressure moment and the team that copes with that the best is probably going to come out on top."

 

But there is no snarling, bitter rivalry here like we are seeing between Aussies Eddie Jones (who coaches England) and Michael Cheika, the Wallabies coach.

 

Hansen and Schmidt are mates.  Last year Schmidt got Hansen extra tickets to the Dublin test for his family and friends, and there is only a healthy respect and admiration for each other.

 

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t the odd attempt at mental mind games.

 

In last year’s win, Ireland scored from a superbly executed set piece move Schmidt admitted he had pinched from the Highlanders.

 

This week Hansen was referring to that when he said the All Blacks, like any team, have weaknesses as well as strengths.

 

“So you've got to have a look at your own weakness as much as anyone else," Hansen said. "You know Joe does a lot of study so that can be a strength and a weakness. We might be able to set him up."

 

Ireland will also need to show they can match the All Blacks pace and intensity, or that they are able to dictate the tempo of the game, because that is the key to victory.

 

Ireland would prefer an arm wrestle against the All Blacks, with Schmidt wary of the pace and width the All Blacks play with and the skills of the individuals.

 

That’s not to suggest Ireland can’t play expansively - they can and they showed that when they thrashed the All Blacks in Chicago with the scoreline flattering the Kiwis.

 

But can Ireland repeat the dose?  Are they prepared to risk it all in a free flowing try-fest because few teams win high scoring games against the All Blacks.

 

Hansen has been happy to praise Ireland, saying they bring the best out of the All Blacks.

 

“We enjoy playing them and that's not just since they started beating us. A lot of people are getting caught up in the past - the only thing that matters is this Saturday. 

 

“Our job as coaches is to create an environment where our talent can express themselves, and we have a lot of that."

 

Indeed.  If the All Blacks can get their game right in Tokyo, history should repeat itself with Ireland heading home and the All Blacks through to the semifinals.


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Jim Kayes

@JimKayes
Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport. He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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