After a few low-key days of shaking off jet lag and settling into life in New Zealand, Ireland stepped things up today with a rigorous training session that shook off any cobwebs that were hanging around. were lingering at the back of the long journey from Dublin.
North Harbor Stadium on the outskirts of Auckland was the setting, as Andy Farrell and his coaches put the players through their paces ahead of a big week.
The majority of the 40-man squad have been training, as Farrell looks to juggle preparations for the opener against the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton on Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s first Test at Eden Park.
The players and back office staff arrived on three different flights from Ireland, but having been together since the start of the week, Farrell upped the intensity before the team enjoyed a day of rest tomorrow, leading into the test week.
“We’re here, we’re happy to be here,” Farrell said. “We have had a few days of training and we are operational.
“It’s huge. We missed it. This group, we should have gone to Australia and Fiji for the past few years and we have guys who have about 20 caps and have never toured before.
“So it’s very important that we escape together and enjoy each other’s company, but also that we test ourselves against the best team in the world.”
Although he entered this daunting tour following a victory against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium last November, Farrell is adamant that the same level of performance will not be enough to create history in beating the All Blacks in their own backyard for the first time. time.
“I wouldn’t say confidence because every time you put on an Irish shirt there’s always an element of nervousness and hope that we can perform and be as good as we were then. But in reality the boys know that it won’t be enough this time around,” Farrell warned.
“We know what we’re up against. We know it’s a different story, Eden Park in mind. We know how special this place is for the All Blacks. It’s great for us anyway. It’s good.
“We want to see ourselves under extreme pressure and how we deal with that, so that’s good all round.”
Farrell knows exactly what it takes to win in New Zealand, having helped the Lions win a Test in 2017, but he is also aware of how difficult this part of the world is.
“It’s incredibly difficult to come here and be successful,” Farrell said.
“Defining what success is is a little different for some people. We have a group of 40 people who came here because of everything we just talked about about not having toured before and the lack of game time opportunities.
“Some guys are playing against the Maori team on Wednesday night and they were dying to play in big games and it’s not getting bigger for them, so it’s a big challenge all round.
“Then with the players being out of their comfort zone, five or six of them falling back in a test match on Saturday against the All Blacks, it doesn’t get more difficult but at the same time that’s where we want to be.
“We want to be at a stage where, about a year away from a World Cup, we want to know more about ourselves and this is the perfect place to do that.
“There are people who were involved in 2012, so there are some scars from that tour, but we’re lucky there were a few guys who came here with the Lions in 2017. I think that tells also a story of the challenge ahead. .
“I think the moral of the story at home after the Lions Series draw was one of success and it was the best of the best on tour on these shores so you can see what kind of test it was this is for little old Ireland.
“But having said that, the challenges are there to make us better, to make us stronger and we have to be ready to face them head on.
“We will be up to the challenge, there is no doubt about it. How we go after the game is pretty important to us because you can’t just sit back and hope things will go well because they probably won’t if you have that type of mindset. So our mentality is going to be quite important.
Farrell’s men have been ‘welcomed’ to New Zealand by a series of billboards mocking Ireland’s dismal record on Kiwi soil, but the Irish boss sees it as a mark of respect.
“We saw a few billboards up there, which are great,” he smiles.
“Walking the streets of Auckland there’s always a backhanded compliment shall we say, which is great. It’s what we expect and we love it. We take it on the chin and move on to the next one , Nope ?”
After today’s session, Ireland were joined by students from South Auckland-based De La Salle College as several players completed a series of skill drills, including one that involved a hurley, sliotar and Gaelic football brought from home.
“We are here to have fun, to show that Irish rugby is also a community in itself, and we want to spread the word about rugby and be good people on tour,” added Farrell.
“It’s important for us to not only embrace the 70 people we have on tour, but to embrace the whole nature of touring New Zealand.
“So having these kids here today is great for us to understand the history and culture of not just Auckland, but also New Zealand.”