Tommy Bowe accepts it will take rugby perfection for Ireland to halt the All Blacks juggernaut at Aviva Stadium today. New Zealand are overwhelming favourites to negotiate successfully the next assignment on their Grand Slam tour when they swagger into Dublin.
The world's best team and Tri-Nations champions have never lost to Ireland in 23 matches dating back to 1905 and it would take a seismic upset for that to change today. Facing them is a team whose confidence is brittle, with a defeat by South Africa and unconvincing win against Samoa posing some difficult questions.
Bowe, however, believes Ireland can topple the All Blacks if they strain every sinew in the pursuit of a famous victory. "There's a lot of excitement because New Zealand are playing some great rugby. It's a massive challenge for us," said the Ospreys winger.
"The intensity of training has stepped up a notch and we know that if we want to compete against these boys we need to be at the top of our game for 80 minutes and that's what we've been working on. New Zealand like to play at a certain intensity and it's up to us to match that and go up a level. There is a definite confidence that we have the ability to beat them.
"Their record against us is why we're serious underdogs for this match and we know every player has to put everything on the line for 80 minutes. Hopefully, we'll get the bounce of the ball and it will be our day. There's no panicking going on. We know that given the players we have, we're well capable of victory."
It is difficult to see in which department Ireland can target the tourists, with their own decline since the Six Nations adding to the sense of futility. Several players – most notably Ireland's captain, Brian O'Driscoll, though he is hardly alone – are struggling to make an impact, but otherwise it is hard to explain their slump.
Head coach Declan Kidney has recalled en masse the side thwarted by South Africa, with prop Tom Court replacing injured Tony Buckley at tight head in the only change.
Kidney revealed the selection was to give the players a chance at redemption and Bowe admits they had let themselves down in the autumn opener. "We didn't play to our potential that day and there's a lot to improve on," he said. "This is our third game in and we're more familiar with each other and the Aviva Stadium.
"The fact we've been together longer is going to be a massive factor – it means we should have more of an understanding. We watched a few clips of the Scotland game [Scotland lost 49-3] and New Zealand were very good at capitalising on mistakes. That's the one area we need to concentrate on and minimise as much as possible."
Ireland endured yet another chastening defeat by New Zealand during the summer when they were flattened 66-28. Bowe was among the try scorers, helping peg back a 38-7 half-time deficit in a fightback the team is using to inspire hope.
"We came back strongly against New Zealand in the summer," he said. "We scored four tries that day and not many teams do that against them. We showed that if we hang on to the ball and play rugby, we can score. But of course we gave them a massive head start and it's important not to do that."
The New Zealand centre Conrad Smith insists O'Driscoll's playing obituary is being written far too early. O'Driscoll's form is under scrutiny amid suggestions the 31-year-old, who was magnificent for Ireland and the Lions only last year, is a fading force.
But Smith, his opposite number at Aviva Stadium today, believes the durable Ireland captain will prove his critics wrong once again. "I rate Brian highly. When he came to New Zealand this year, him and Gordon D'Arcy were the guys who stood out," said Smith. "He's a class player, someone I've always enjoyed watching. He hasn't always had an easy time of it against us, but that's nothing to do with him. He's stood the test of time.
"When we came up here in 2008 I was being told he's past it but then he had that amazing year with the Lions and was back to his best. I like that in a player – that's true quality."Reuse content