The All Blacks and Ireland rugby team have named their sides for their second test in the 2012 series. The match takes place in Christchurch, the first international rugby game to be played there since 2010 following the tragic earthquakes.
Ireland’s 107 year win less drought never looked like ending last weekend, and there is much speculation that New Zealand could be even stronger following a further week to build combinations. The All Blacks won the first test 42-10, with debutant winger Julian Savea becoming the first All Black to score a hat-trick against Ireland.
Fortunately, Ireland welcome back tighthead prop Mike Ross, to form a more formidable frontrow with Rory Best and Cian Healy. They have apparently also looked to counteract Richie McCaw by bringing in blindside flanker Kevin McLaughlin. However, it was at the ruck where Ireland best challenged the All Blacks. Gordon D’Arcy resumes his near 50 test combination with captain Brian O’Driscoll in the midfield, replacing the injured Keith Earls. The only other change is Andrew Trimble replacing Simon Zebo on the wing.
It’s a refreshingly consistent All Blacks side that backs up from the first test. New Zealand are notorious for tweaking and experimenting from test to test. However, in this case the only change is injury forced, with number 6 Victor Vito facing 5 weeks on the sideline. He is replaced by Adam Thomson for his 26th test.
Twenty year old Sam Cane takes Thomson’s place on the bench and will be hoping for an All Blacks test cap to complete his meteoric rise to the top. If he takes the field the twenty year old will become the fourth new All Black of 2012 following Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Julian Savea last weekend, all of whom back up this week for their second test.
There was much talk about Sonny Bill Williams being replaced by Ma’a Nonu for the second test, but this hasn’t come to fruition, so Williams gets a rare chance at back to back tests in the number 12 shirt. He was very involved in last week’s game, and was particularly visible in taking on the line. This lead to a number of handling errors as the Ireland rugby team focused extra men and venom in shutting him down. However, this likely lead to the extra space out wide later in the game once Williams improved his recycling but continued to attract extra defenders. If SBW can improve his early handling this weekend, then Ireland will either leave space out wide again or potentially leave space in the middle for him to break the line like he has for the Chiefs this year.
Expect to see many more changes in the All Blacks team for the third test in Hamilton.
Many pundits are expecting the 32 point scoreline to be extended this weekend. However, even if New Zealand offer a better display, that doesn’t necessarily translate to the scoreboard, particularly in the wet. The question is whether Ireland try to limit the damage the All Blacks can cause, or whether they try and win the game. The harsh conditions in Christchurch may play into Ireland’s hands also.
Ireland will probably realise their best chance is to slow the ball down, and could use their test against Australia in the World Cup as a template in keeping the game tight. I’m still picking a win to the All Blacks, but by a smaller margin.
All Blacks by 15
All Blacks Team to Play Ireland:
Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Hika Elliot, Ben Franks, Sam Cane, Ali Williams, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith
Ireland Team to Play All Blacks:
Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll (c), Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Kevin McLaughlin, Donnacha Ryan, Dan Touhy, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy.
Reserves: Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick, Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Simon Zebo.