Declan Kidney has warned that New Zealand have never been better as his Ireland side bid to beat the All Blacks for the first time in their history. The closest Ireland have come to upsetting the Kiwis was a 10-10 draw in 1973, but Kidney is confident victory is still achievable despite likening his rivals in tomorrow's game at Croke Park as "the Tiger Woods of rugby".
"Our record against them isn't great," he said. "It reads played 21, lost 20. And I don't think they've ever been more dangerous to play but I've told the guys that history has nothing to do with this match. The All Blacks are just another side we have to unpick." Kidney has plenty of experience of upsets after a decade of success at Munster and, in only his second game in charge of the national side, he has gone back to his roots.
Eight Munster men make the starting line-up, the most surprising of which is Tomas O'Leary, 25, at scrum-half. He gets the nod over the Wasps No 9 Eoin Reddan to start against the All Blacks. Croke Park is familiar territory for O'Leary - he won a junior All-Ireland title there in 2001 - as are the All Blacks - he was part of the Irish side that lost in the final of the Junior World Cup to New Zealand four years ago.
Aside from O'Leary, Kidney has gone for experienced players. Girvan Dempsey returns in place of Keith Earls at full-back despite Earls' bright performance in the 55-0 win over Canada last weekend. Alan Quinlan and David Wallace are also recalled in the back row, with Wallace having the unenviable task of taking on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. Wallace has spent the week watching footage of McCaw in action and will have his work cut out silencing arguably the world's best back-row forward. "You have to be on your toes to counteract him," said Wallace.
"He's the best in the world at what he does. He has all sorts of tricks up his sleeve, some of which I've spotted on the tapes. "I cannot afford to switch off for a second as he can change a game in a flash." Another potential game breaker is the Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, who will run out for his 50th cap tomorrow and revealed the match could provide him with one of the remaining goals of his career.
"I've beaten every other side in world rugby but not the All Blacks," he said. "I'd love to do that and it would make a change, as our results have been pretty predictable against them." firstname.lastname@example.org