The emotional significance of Test rugby returning to Christchurch, which was devastated by an earthquake, has provided added motivation to the All Blacks heading in to today’s second clash against Ireland.
The All Blacks are looking to wrap up the three-match series with a game to spare, after their comprehensive 42-10 win in the first Test in Auckland last week.
Despite the overwhelming margin, they were not satisfied with that performance and in addition to intense training through the week, they also took time out to reflect on last year’s natural disaster.
“We went for a drive through the town on the way here,” captain Richie McCaw said.
“I think the guys, and even myself, I haven’t been through there properly. You realize the significance of what’s happened here and just a wee reminder of that was enough,” he added.
Ten of the All Blacks squad, including McCaw, are members of the Canterbury Crusaders who are based in Christchurch, where a magnitude 6.3 quake in February last year killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city center.
The Crusaders home ground was rendered unplayable and the city lost the chance to host seven World Cup matches, meaning the return of rugby to a hastily built new stadium saw all 21,000 tickets sold out quickly.
“It’s great from a Cantabrians point of view to have footy here, and a Test match, and that’s what we’re looking forward to,” McCaw said.
The forecast for the Test is not inviting. The icy rain that has lashed the city in recent days is expected to clear, but temperatures will stay at about freezing point.
They are conditions Ireland have been preparing for, focusing on a kick-and-chase game to put pressure on the All Blacks’ keenness to counterattack.
Ireland midfield back Gordon D’Arcy, who will be partnering Brian O’Driscoll in the centers for the 48th time after missing the first Test, said for the plan to work and to pressure the All Blacks they must make their first-up tackles.
“From myself and Brian’s point of view, we know we’ve got our job cut out. One of the things we’ve talked about is one-on-one tackles. That’s something we’ve got to live and die by,” D’Arcy said.
The All Blacks need to tidy up their work at the breakdown, where Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien caused mayhem in the first Test, forcing turnovers at critical times.
“We had a flow on and turned the ball over. The Irish certainly put numbers there and are quite physical there, so we’re going to have to make sure we counter that,” McCaw said.
The All Blacks have made only one change to their starting lineup, with Adam Thomson replacing injured flanker Victor Vito, allowing uncapped 20-year-old Sam Cane to move on to the bench.
There are four changes in the Ireland side, with D’Arcy, left wing Andrew Trimble, prop Mike Ross and flanker Kevin McLaughlin replacing Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Declan Fitzpatrick and Peter O’Mahony.