Repeat of Irish rough-house tactics unlikely
OPINION: Ireland forwards boss Gert Smal proffered a juicy line during his last rugby visit to Christchurch in 2007.
The setting was the Christ's College grounds and Smal, then a member of the Springboks management team, allowed the fire in his eyes to flicker when he unleashed the schoolyard taunt "sissies" after being questioned about his pack's rough-house tactics.
The All Blacks were unhappy about the treatment meted out to Richie McCaw in the previous test in Durban. Smal, a rugged loose forward who represented the Springboks once against the Cavaliers in 1986, responded in kind.
Rugby, he reminded his interrogators, may be the game made in heaven but no one said the players had to be angels.
"The game is not made for sissies – that's all I can say to you," Smal said. "You can't run away from the physical part of the game and you have to be able to deal with it."
Although the under-strength Springboks surrendered 33-6 to the All Blacks, they lifted the Webb Ellis Cup that season.
Smal and Ireland head coach Declan Kidney may be inclined to echo that message this week but hope it is delivered with more oomph as they attempt to reverse last weekend's 42-10 defeat.
The Irish must produce something special during Saturday night's second test at AMI Stadium.
Competitive in the opening quarter of the first test, they were goners when they trailed by 20 points at the bell.
Although the All Blacks monstered the tourists on their feed several times and injuries to props Cian Healy and Declan Fitzpatrick – making his test debut because Mike Ross was nobbled by a hamstring strain – resulted in uncontested set-pieces, the Irish exceeded expectations in the scrums and their lineout was clinical.
The Irish were also rebellious at the breakdowns, winning penalties and forcing the All Blacks to assess their technique of getting isolated when going to ground.
Smal's problem is that the All Blacks forwards are likely to crank up the pressure in the remaining two tests.
They will have another week to fine-tune their combinations, assess the Irish threats and discuss how to negate the nuggety flanker Sean O'Brien and No8 Jamie Heaslip at the rucks.
Losing their heads will do the Irish little good and they will be mindful of what happened when they were last reduced to 14 men in New Zealand. Heaslip collected a red card when he used his knee to lash out at Richie McCaw in New Plymouth in 2010. The All Blacks won 66-28.
Even one of Ireland's greatest warriors, the incomparable Willie John McBride, would agree a repeat of such tactics would be most unsavoury.
Former lock McBride, who earned 63 caps with Ireland and toured with the British and Irish Lions five times, instigated the infamous "99" fight call to combat the Springboks' rugged tactics during the Lions' successful tour of South Africa in 1974.
There will be none of that nonsense on Saturday night.
But Smal and Kidney will agree they need to rely on more than a schoolyard taunt to earn their first-ever win over the All Blacks.
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