The Leinster flanker Kevin McLaughlin was in admirably gung-ho spirits as his first Test start in two years loomed – and that a start for a depleted Ireland side, 1-0 down in a three-match series in All Black country and heading for an emotionally charged Christchurch to face the world champions once again.
"We know the level we have to be at now to compete," McLaughlin said, which is one way to put a positive spin on a 42-10 shellacking in Auckland. "Training this week has been really sharp. There has been no heads down or anything. We are in a really good position to go out and have a good go at them."
Of the Eden Park Test, McLaughlin said: "There was definitely an element of the lads having to step up to the speed of the game. Super Rugby is a lot different to the RaboDirect – it is a lot faster. The Kiwis just ran from everywhere, especially when we kicked loosely a couple of times. They were pretty unstoppable in their counter-attack. We just need to be a lot tighter defensively and up to the pace of the game."
McLaughlin was in Leinster's back row when, last month, the province – often if optimistically compared to a Super 15 team by European pundits – won a third Heineken Cup in four years.
"I was happy with how the Heineken Cup final went," he said. "Seanie [O'Brien] played unbelievably and I felt I did my job. It is brilliant having some familiar faces in the back row. It means I can just go out there and play my own game. Peter [O'Mahony, of Munster] went well last week but myself, Sean and Jamie [Heaslip] play together week in, week out, so we know each other's strengths and weaknesses. That is an obvious advantage for me."
Another Leinster player, Gordon D'Arcy, returns to the centres after missing the first Test. He replaces the injured Munsterman Keith Earls in partnership with Brian O'Driscoll. With Fergus McFadden on one wing and Rob Kearney at full-back, Leinster supply four of the five Irish outside backs.
"The familiarity helps a bit," said D'Arcy, his caution born perhaps of much more experience of being battered by All Blacks, Boks and Wallabies, "and you develop a certain rapport with them. However, we're not playing for Leinster, we're playing for Ireland. It's a whole new set of rules and a new level of intensity."
New Zealand should provide just that today. The second Test is the first to be held in Christchurch since the city was hit by a severe earthquake in 2010. Richie McCaw, the All Blacks' captain, said: "[The fact] people get the chance to come and watch the All Blacks play in Christchurch is pretty significant. It will be nice running out here."
The Irish may come to disagree.
New Zealand: I Dagg; Z Guildford (both Hawke's Bay), C Smith (Wellington), SB Williams (Canterbury), J Savea (Wellington); D Carter (Canterbury), A Smith (Manawatu); T Woodcock (North Harbour), A Hore (Taranaki), O Franks (Canterbury), B Retallick (Hawke's Bay), S Whitelock (Canterbury), A Thomson (Otago), K Read, R McCaw (capt, both Canterbury). Replacements: H Elliott (Hawke's Bay), B Franks (Tasman), A Williams (Auckland), S Cane (Bay of Plenty), P Weepu (Wellington), A Cruden (Manawatu), B Smith (Otago).
Ireland: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy (all Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); D Tuohy (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster); K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (all Leinster). Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), D O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony (both Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O'Gara, S Zebo (both Munster). Referee: N Owens (Leinster)Reuse content