Ireland: New Zealand tour a ‘massive opportunity’ for Andy Farrell’s men says Ronan O’Gara

Colin Newboult

Ireland legend Ronan O’Gara is looking forward to the three-Test series against New Zealand in July and believes they have a shot at causing an upset.

Andy Farrell’s men defeated the All Blacks in November and followed that up with a positive Six Nations, just missing out on the title to France.

They are very much heading in the right direction, but the Irish arguably face the most difficult challenge in rugby by taking on New Zealand away from home.

Ian Foster’s charges will be out for revenge after their disappointing end-of-year tour in Europe, which featured losses to Ireland and France.

Hostile environment

“This is top, top level sport. It’s ruthless. You want to set up your players to succeed. It’ll be a hard environment in the middle of winter on winter surfaces in New Zealand. It will be different rugby to what we’re seeing now and what we’ll see for the next two-three months on firm pitches with dry balls. You’re going down to the middle of winter,” O’Gara told reporters.

“They’ll be good pitches, but they’ll be hostile environments, passionate fans. It’s a fantastic test as a rugby player.

“What will happen with Ireland is, of course they’ll be going to create history and do what no other Irish team has done, and there’s so many carrots and incentives to do something that no other Irish team has done. So for me, it smacks of a massive opportunity.

“At the same time, you look throughout the Six Nations campaign and a lot of different players were used, but none of them are rookies or unproven. It’s deadly competitive to get into the Irish team now, never mind Irish squads.”

New Zealand have been the prize scalp for every rugby nation due to their dominance over the years and their incredible win rate.

However, since Foster has taken charge following the Rugby World Cup, they have lost more matches, with 2021 their worst season since 2009.

O’Gara insists that other countries are beginning to challenge their superiority but believes that the All Blacks will improve during the upcoming July series.

“I think in the last three years the gap has most definitely closed (between New Zealand and the rest),” O’Gara said.

“Super Rugby is probably a different game. It’s a lot more expansive, but it’s not really like that in Test rugby, where you have very limited time and space on the ball and there’s a big set-piece focus.

“I think you have to be impressed with the skill levels of New Zealand forwards, that is a competitive advantage to them, but there are other areas in other Test teams where probably France, Ireland, South Africa may have other advantages over New Zealand.

“I think New Zealand will have had… not a reality check, but confirmation of the appreciation of the strength of the game in Europe after the northern hemisphere tour.

“To give it a little bit of context, they came to Europe at the end of a difficult, long Covid season (last year). That’s a very minor point but I think it’s worth stressing also. They’ll be fresh, they’ll be eager and they’ll be hungry. They will be three unbelievable Test matches.”

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