O'Sullivan puts his faith in line-out excellence

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The Independent Online

Unfortunately some 53 Kiwis - namely the All Blacks players and management - are staying in the Northern Hemisphere for the time being until they have completed their mission.

And they are all skilled. The Ireland head coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, said as much on the eve of the New Zealanders' second leg of their Grand Slam tour. "They have phenomenal skill, it runs right through the team," he said. "They can all play with the football, they can all pass and all run with it, and they understand the game."

The All Blacks also understand their opponents. They worked out Wales very quickly last week and destroyed the Red Dragons' line-out with clinical efficiency. O'Sullivan is well aware of this. "Wales got caught on the day and it proved the undoing of them and that is a lesson for us. We are hoping for a better result at the line-out than Wales.

"Wales do not have a bad line-out, it's just that New Zealand worked them out early doors and were then able to disrupt them. Our line-out has been right up there for the last few years, but you can't be complacent.

"If a team figures out one trigger in your line-out you are in trouble straightaway. So we have kept working on it. That has been the secret of our success and it is no mean feat to get our line-out up to that standard, it takes a lot of hard work and you never take it for granted."

One of the key figures to the success of the line-out is the hooker, in Ireland's case Shane Byrne. He was the man who copped a lot of flak for the perceived failure of the British and Irish Lions line-out on the disastrous tour to New Zealand last summer.

While not shying away from the brickbats, the Saracens No 2 said: "Line-outs are complicated matters these days.

"You have jumpers, decoy jumpers, lifters, hookers throwing in and weather conditions to make allowances for, and that is before you even consider the opposition who are trying to disrupt the whole thing on your throw."

But if they have put in the hard graft and Ireland's locks Donncha O'Callaghan and Malcolm O'Kelly do their stuff, then that reduces the complex issue to just two factors - the All Black second-row pairing of the debutant Jason Eaton and the experienced Ali Williams together with the weather.

There is no doubt that the gales that have been forecast have sent a wind of change through the strategies of both teams. Graham Henry, the All Blacks head coach, said: "Climatic conditions are going to have a huge effect on the match. It is going to be a game of two halves and we are going to have to play differently going one way than going the other. We have to ensure that our tactics are conducive to playing well in each half."

O'Sullivan adopted a similar outlook: "In these conditions you have to change your attacking zones, drop a bit further up the field, the risk strategies need to be applied with a bit more care, it's harder to pass the football in these conditions over long distances and if it is raining the ball is going to be slippery. There is no point in saying the weather doesn't matter."

He was similarly dismissive of talk that this is a second string New Zealand team. "I have heard people saying that we are playing the New Zealand second team tomorrow, well I had a look at the line-up and made a quick note here: Mealamu, Woodcock, Williams, McCaw, Weepu, Mauger, McDonald, Howlett, Sivivatu - I rest my case. If that is a second XV I'll eat my hat. That is a very strong New Zealand XV we face tomorrow."

While Henry did admit: "This is not the strongest team we could put on the field." He added the rider: "You don't pick your top XV every week. We think it is a risk worth taking to achieve the major goal, which is to develop as many Test players as we can across the field."