Ireland vs New Zealand: Brian O'Driscoll says Conor Murray has overtaken Aaron Smith as the 'best nine in the world'

Ireland are aiming to be the first side to record back-to-back wins over the All Blacks since 2009

O'Driscoll believes Murray is now better than Aaron Smith
O'Driscoll believes Murray is now better than Aaron Smith

“It was good to get the monkey off our back – or more like a gorilla after 108 years.”

King Kong could have been more apt, but that’s how Brain O’Driscoll described Ireland’s historic win over New Zealand in Chicago two weeks ago.

The Irish became only the fourth side from the Northern Hemisphere to beat the All Blacks, and in doing so put 40 points on them, something that had only happened on four previous occasions.

Now Ireland have the even more daunting task of trying to replicate that victory and become the first side since then-world champions South Africa in 2009 to have recorded back-to-back victories over the All Blacks.

The Springboks actually won three in a row on that occasion, but since then, while defeats are rare, consecutive defeats to the same team are unheard of.

The last team to beat the All Blacks, Australia, were hammered 41-13 the next match – the start of an 18-game winning streak – and O’Driscoll is fully aware of the size of the task.

“We’ve definitely poked the bear,” he said. “It’ll be harder the second time around, knowing what has just gone, because they will come absolutely all guns blazing.

“I think [Brodie] Retallick will be back. It just shows what a huge player he is for them. He’s enormous to them. I met Joe Schmidt a couple of days beforehand and said with a grin, ‘they don’t have Retallick and [Sam] Whitelock playing’.

O'Driscoll captianed the Lions on their 2005 tour of New Zealand

“They were words said in jest but I do think that they are a different team with those two and you won’t see New Zealand make those unforced errors again.”

Every member of the side that started the energy-sapping 40-29 win in the United States was given the weekend off against Canada, but while they will be physically ready to go at it again with the World Cup winners, recreating the emotional intensity needed will be a more difficult challenge.

“They’re at home. It’s an added bonus that they’re going to go back to Dublin at the Aviva and they will have a massively partisan crowd there cheering them on – not that you ever need cheering on against the All Blacks.

“With having one victory under your belt, I know Joe Schmidt won’t be content with that, he will want to go and do the unthinkable about beating them back-to-back.

“They will have put the previous game to bed and be focussed on the second one.

Simon Zebo celebrates his try with Jonathan Sexton

“We were just unlucky for 108 years weren’t we? We need them to have an off day, we need to be great and we need a little bit of luck. But we made our own luck as well. Getting back to four points and then kicking on and winning by 11 [two weeks ago] showed huge steel.”

While beating New Zealand was something O’Driscoll could never add to his career timeline, he did manage to achieve a British and Irish Lions series victory.

There are seven months between the New Zealand game at the Aviva and Warren Gatland’s squad announcement, and O’Driscoll, who was capped 141 times for Ireland and the Lions, thinks a lot of Irishmen have put their hands up for selection.

None more so than Conor Murray, who the 2005 Lions captain now rates as the best scrum-half in the world.

“I saw in the Irish Times that Conor Murray got the first 10 out of 10 ever and I couldn’t have agreed more. Aaron Smith, six months ago, was the best nine in the world. I think Conor Murray is now the best nine in the world.

“On current form – which doesn’t count for anything because the Lions is next summer – he would be a shoo-in for the test. There are a couple of other [Irish] guys who have put their hand up, maybe not immediate test selection, but to get on the tour.

Murray scored a try and kicked a penalty in the win over New Zealand

“His ability to read the game is much better than the vast majority of nines. He knows when to plug gaps. His defence performance in the game against South Africa when Ireland were down a man could have been a 10 as well. I don’t know a better tackler or position player in world rugby. He’s better than Aaron Smith at that too.

“I think he’s been remarkable. Just nonchalantly stepping up and taking a pressure kick when Jonny [Sexton] wasn’t right… he’s just got lots of confidence and that’s what you want in a nine. He’s putting together the whole package.”

Smith will be chomping at the bit to show O’Driscoll that is not the case when he takes to the field on Saturday teatime, as he and the rest of the All Blacks will be desperate to prove the old adage about a wounded animal being most dangerous rings true in Dublin.

Brian O’Driscoll is the ambassador for the new Thomas Pink Lions Collection. In stores now. www.thomaspink.com

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