You would have to think the Irish will not be happy to note the return of ‘Guzzler’ Retallick to the first XV of NZ’s ranks for tonight’s quarter-final at the RWC. And the All Blacks can win by not standing still- more on that in a minute.
If it’s correct to say that around ninety percent of games are Rugby Union are won by whichever side is more dominant overall in the Forwards battle, then Retallick with his physicality and athleticism at the breakdown, especially in pilfering turnovers, looms as someone very significant in negating players like O’Mahony from the opposition. What makes Retallick such a weapon is his prowess in the tight stuff and out in the open. He’s a faster, bigger and younger version of Kieran Read. So long as the team don’t lose Retallick, Barrett or Read, Kiwis should keep retaining a good, logical degree of confidence that the All Blacks’ can attain their longed-for World Cup three-peat.
Ireland will definitely keep the play as physical and as tight as possible- Joe Schmidt knows full well they can’t hold a candle to the All Blacks’ general ball skills. So their m.o. will be to draw our guys into a close quarter wrestle. Then to access easily the best kicking halfback-flyhalf combo in world rugby, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to turn us around with their Masters’ degrees in boot-ology.
If our set-piece ball is slow or, as expected, the Irish test the referee’s leniency/patience as much as possible in getting as close to, or beyond the hindmost foot in their defensive lines, it’s on Richie Mo’unga not to remain stationary in passing the ball along the chain in his role as pivot. He needs to be running onto the ball; thereby not allowing the opposition defensive wall to settle too tightly. If the play opens up a little, it’s not quite so vital to generate the speed from the 10 position- in that situation by not being overly-squeezed for space, it would be ok for Mo-unga to act as a more stationary pivot and for ALB to provide the speed for the backline to launch from.
But in tight, close-quarter defensive wall suffocation, if Mo’unga doesn’t hit the ball at pace from Smith’s pass from halfback, we are going to be in trouble. The Irish forwards will swallow all the next players up like a pint of Guinness on St Paddy’s Day.
If we get a good start, play smart, hit the ball at speed and give Murray and Sexton the hurry up, we should win by more than ten.
If the Irish defensive wall envelops us and we try in vain to run stationary ball on top of little or no kicking variations, it’s more than possible we could be looking at some painful post-mortems and an early flight home.