History was made on Saturday morning when Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time in New Zealand.
Ireland pressured the All Blacks into a below par attacking game while showcasing what they can create when their own attack is cohesive.
Some standout performances leave us questioning what is next in terms of success on this tour.
As a group of players and coaches it's a simple answer. Build on history and momentum and go for the jugular. A Test series win is in their sights and they will be completely blinded by the win that’s in front of their face.
The Maori All Blacks game will be used to get game time for the peripheral players and Saturday will be a cauldron for Ireland to prove just how good they can be when their first choice players fire at the same time.
However, when the ego is put aside, there are other aspects of this tour that would make things successful.
The biggest question mark over this nation is whether we can overcome a World Cup quarter-final. Funnily enough, they could well be playing New Zealand in that game, but it will be held in France.
Therefore a series win could sow many elements of doubt into the All Black psyche, considering Ireland already seem to have the measure of them on their day.
However, Andy Farrell's side might be playing with a few uncontrollables should that quarter-final fixture come to light. If any of Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter or Johnny Sexton fail to make it that far, then Ireland could immediately struggle.
If they lose Peter O’Mahony at this stage they will have big boots to fill because of the physical and emotional dirty work that Peter brings to the team.
I certainly don’t want to see mass changes for the match. However, we could develop one or two more positions to give the next most important guys the best experience of Test match rugby that they will ever face. This game alone stands for far more than 80 minutes of Test experience.
The front row to start on Saturday can't be changed because it is so important to get the cornerstones of the match right. George Bower has already caused some issues with his front row colleagues and we don’t want to give the All Blacks any easy advantages going into the game.
There can be a change made between 4, 5 and 6. There are a couple of combinations here that might work, but the loss of Iain Henderson makes this one much more difficult. James Ryan is the one that I would possibly move to the bench. He was instrumental in the defensive lineout, however he gave away a number of penalties in play and I don’t think he’s going through his richest vein of form in the Irish jersey.
Maybe that’s a good enough reason to keep him, to allow his confidence to progress, but he could be swapped out to give experience to someone else too.
The difficulty here is that Ryan is too important with the lineout structures and that’s another cornerstone that I can’t see Farrell messing with.
The other second row position is Tadhg Beirne, who had one of the greatest turnarounds from his first Test to his marauding second. His first Test was marred by a lack of game time, but the physical and mental ability to turn it around and challenge for player of the match shows the measure of his ability. Due to his lack of game time and need for international minutes, I would be keeping him in the side.
Peter O’Mahony has been the Irish player of this tour so far. Does that mean we have to leave him in the team? Or do we wrap him in a bit of cotton wool, protect him from the potential HIA protocols and find someone who can potentially fill his boots?
You won’t get as much 'dog’ from Ryan Baird if you choose to play him at blindside, but you’ll get a serious level of athleticism. Going by the selection for the second Maori game, it looks as though he’ll play a bigger part this weekend.
Gavin Coombes would give you a level of workrate and brutish stubbornness that could see him as the answer to O’Mahony’s absence, should the unthinkable happen. This would also lessen the load for Coombes as a number 8 and just allow him to do his thing, with his carries, tackles and general rugby ability. He’s proven himself against the Maori All Blacks and I think it would be a great way to see if he will sink or swim at this level.
Jack Conan would not be overly happy with this decision but I don’t know if the balance is right in the Josh Van Der Flier, Conan, and Caelan Doris back row. That’s why O’Mahony has been so important in the last few games. He’s more than a poacher and a lineout specialist, his abilities give balance to the other two positions around the pitch.
In the back line, there will be an easy decision made to bring Bundee Aki into the team, although the loss of Garry Ringrose will be felt. There will only be space for one other change in the team, based on previous changes within team selection.
Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw and Jamison Gibson-Park are nailed on in my opinion.
I also don’t see Farrell going without Sexton. However, the answer to this could be to go with a second playmaker at full-back which would open the door to get Joey Carbery on to the pitch with less pressure. Yes, we need to get him up to speed in case Sexton is unavailable for selection, but based on pragmatism, Farrell will not go without his key strategist and his leader for the Test decider.
Hugo Keenan has been ever present since donning the Irish jersey and is a phenomenal talent, but I don’t think he’s added a spark to the attacking game of late. Allowing Carbery to settle in to the 15 jersey, before taking the reins sometime in the second half could be the way to go.
Jimmy O'Brien didn’t shine in the first Maori game but he would fit into the system that bit better with less changes and more frontline starters. His footwork in attack and his left footed kicking option make him a great choice, but his future could be on the wing and less so at full-back. Lowe wasn’t at his best, yet his physical presence and his character within the team stands for quite a lot.
In saying all of this, the third Test is a decider. It’s against a hurting All Blacks side in their own patch, with a head coach whose job is now coming under pressure. The easy thing would be to change as little as possible and try to overturn the All Blacks for a 2-1 series win.
However, there’s a bigger picture and a hybrid of gaining valuable experience and going to win the series could be the biggest win for Irish rugby in the longer term plan.
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