Dublin postcard: Hype grows in Ireland as All Blacks showdown looms

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

RUGBY.com.au journalist Beth Newman has been stationed in Dublin this week ahead of World Rugby's vote on the 2021 Women's World Cup, and filed this scene setter for the huge clash between New Zealand and Ireland on Sunday morning.

"Fresh flags outside Dublin pubs signal the start of a new Test week and this week it was the first sign of what was to come - the All Blacks, specifically.

By Monday morning, gone was the Argentinian sky blue and in its place was the Union Jack and a red Southern Cross hanging outside many of the sporting bars in the city.

Rugby hasn't exactly taken over the Irish capital or the back pages so early in the week but the buzz is certainly building ahead of a blockbuster world clash.

Irish papers were quick to call for improvement after a scratchy win over the Pumas, echoing Joe Schmidt's post-match quotes and tempering expectations ahead of the New Zealand encounter.

Though November internationals can sometimes have mixed interest levels, Irish Independent journalist Vincent Hogan hinted that wouldn't be an issue this weekend.

"Actually, truth be told, a distinct indifference squats over November internationals these days unless those ogres in black are involved," he wrote.

"There's an endless traffic to the bars, punters clucking like self-satisfied hens when the show is pleasing but quickly growing uninterested when it sags."

Tickets for the game are rarer than a sunny day. Twitter is full of pleas for tickets to the game, that has long been sold out.

As is his way, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen began the cheeky pot-stirring as soon as his team touched down in Dublin, calling Ireland's bluff over Conor Murray's return to play.

"I’m assuming Conor Murray will play, they have a good spine," he said at Dublin Airport.

"Then there's a chance he might not. I just think he will play. I'm not saying that to cause any trouble or stir it.

"I just think he's a real competitor, he will want to play and if he has got a chance i reckon he'll want to play."

By Monday afternoon local time, the IRFU had moved to shut the door on the Murray speculation. Murray was no chance. Schmidt 1 - Hansen 0?

New Zealand Herald columnist Gregor Paul fired the first major media shots of the week, as he often does ahead of big rugby clashes, with a piece criticising Ireland's poaching of foreign stars.

He followed up that piece on a podcast with Irish outlet Balls.ie - speaking particularly of Ireland centre Bundee Aki, he pointed the finger once again at the IRFU.

"Kiwis wash up everywhere. People kind of accept that is what is going to happen," he said.

"If they have got particularly close to being an All Black and then they turn that down, that causes a bit of a problem.

"Secondly, if they are not actually qualified through heritage for the country they are playing for, that causes a bit of a problem.

"When we have guys like Bundee, he is not really the problem, it is more the Irish Rugby Union who are the problem."

As the week has gone on, rugby has crept its way up the pecking order of Irish news, onto more back pages and leading local sites.

Interestingly, it was a reunion that took the headlines on Tuesday morning local time as Brian O'Driscoll and Tana Umaga publicly buried a 15-year-old hatched over Umaga's infamous 2005 spear tackle.

“We parked it a long time ago,” O’Driscoll said at Guinness event with Umaga.

“It was one of those things. Was it unfortunate? Yeah. Should you have dealt with it slightly differently? Yeah. But you’ve got to move on. You can’t bring those sorts of things through life.

“Listen, we’re able to have a laugh and take the piss about it now, properly. Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity to meet up with people in a controlled environment.

“We see each other at events here and there and have a quick word. Actually, to have a get together and chew the fat and properly get to talk and not feel scared by it is refreshing and, I hope, it’s dead after this.”

Then it was Ian Foster's turn to take a sneaky swipe at Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton, speaking to media.

Asked about Sexton's comments that Ireland would need to stay on the right side of referee Wayne Barnes, Foster couldn't resist returning serve.

"I'm not sure why he says that, Barnsey is a great ref," he said.

"Johnny seems to give them (referees) a bit of advice on the park too so I’m sure he will carry on doing that."

Some argue the more the niggle they offer up, the more worried the All Blacks are. Some say it means they're relaxed and confident.

Time will tell. But there's no doubting the Irish confidence either, and this will be a huge match as far as form lines go for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

If Ireland have hopes of making history in Tokyo, they know they have to first take care of business this weekend in Dublin."