Ireland emphasise effort and experience

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The Independent Online
To kill time Ireland have been playing Trivial Pursuit at their hotel and that is expected to be the name of the game when they meet New Zealand in the opening match of Group C at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, this evening.

If Ireland, who have never beaten the All Blacks, can limit the defeat to 20 points it will be an achievement. New Zealand, who won the inaugural World Cup on home territory eight years ago, have prepared for this in the most professional manner, training for up to five hours a day for six months.

Beaten by Australia in Dublin in the second World Cup in 1991, the All Blacks recognised that they had been surpassed in fitness. "I've got a good feeling about this squad," Brian Lochore, the manager said. That statement should alert Ireland, and everybody else, to the threat posed by New Zealand.

Ireland had a disappointing Five Nations' Championship - their only success was against Wales in Cardiff - and followed that with an embarrassing defeat to Italy in Treviso two weeks ago. Earlier in the year Noel Murphy, the manager, pointed out that, compared to most countries, Ireland were observing the spirit of the game - maintaining its amateur status.

Ireland maintain they will give the All Blacks a "game to remember" but their best chance of surviving in the competition rests with their matches against Japan and Wales next week. "We will not be terribly worried about our status as underdogs against the All Blacks," Gerry Murphy, the coach, said. "We are looking for a good performance. We know we have to win two out of our three pool matches to qualify for the knock-out stages. We can do that."

At the beginning of the week a report in Ireland suggested that Gerry Murphy had been dismissed. "That was hurtful to the management," Noel Murphy said. "It upset Gerry, it upset me. It was wrong and unhelpful." To put the record straight, the Murphys held a team meeting and assured the players that Gerry was still the coach.

Ireland have made six changes from the Italian debacle, restoring the experienced half-backs Eric Elwood and Michael Bradley. "They are durable, strong players," Noel Murphy said, emphasising the expected physical nature of the contest at Ellis Park. For the same reason David Corkery was selected at blind-side wing forward and Neil Francis in the second row.

"Francis will do a job for us," Murphy said. "If I was sitting at home reflecting on this match I'd probably say it was beyond our means. But something can always happen on the day. Realistically, to stand a chance we would have to do everything right. We're going to have to do a lot of tackling. We're usually at our best when we've been written off."

Jonah Lomu, the 6ft 5in 19-stone Tongan who plays on the All Blacks wing, said he has been briefed about Ireland. "My team-mates told me that the Irish always give 100 per cent and that to me is the ultimate compliment." Ireland, and in particular Richard Wallace, have also been briefed about Lomu.

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