Three of UCD’s brightest stars have been named in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland national squad for the latest autumn international test series, which will see Ireland face off against New Zealand and Australia.
Star Collidge centre Garry Ringrose, whose leading performances in the blue of UCD saw him progress to play regularly for Leinster this season has been given a chance to prove himself at the highest level of rugby. Former scrum-half Luke McGrath, who was the heartbeat of UCD’s quick attacking rugby two years ago before leaving Belfield is also included in the squad. Josh van der Flier makes the third recent Belfield player to make it into Schmidt’s picks. The promising young flanker has been steadily making a name for himself with appearances for Leinster and Ireland, but will face a real test if he gets a chance to go up against the physically intimidating All Blacks or Australian front packs.
Ireland are facing down the barrel of the seemingly impossible task of defeating the All Blacks in the Aviva on November 19th. The odds are stacked heavily against the Irish who have famously never managed to beat their illustrious opponents. The All Blacks themselves have shown no signs of missing their two famous leaders Dan Carter and Richie McCaw following their third World Cup win just over a year ago. With Beauden Barrett and co. stepping up and showing the true depth of quality available to the Kiwis, so much so that they arguably look even stronger than they did in Twickenham last October. They are coming off the back of a faultless Rugby Championship where they blew away South Africa, Australia and Argentina with ease to extend their current unbeaten run to a record breaking 18 games.
Ireland will need to be perfect on the Saturday, and even that may not be enough. One person that will certainly need to be on top of his game if Ireland are to succeed is the man in green with a number 10 on his back. But with superstar Johnny Sexton having a serious lack of game time under his belt recently it may be too much to ask of him to control the game for 80 minutes. His provincial replacement during this injury lay-off Joey Carberry may have impressed in the blue of Leinster but his responsibility was heavily limited in his first 10 appearances and as he celebrates his 21st birthday it remains unclear whether his fine form at provincial level can translate into a potential International debut against the country of his birth.
The All Blacks look simply invincible in every facet of the game and you could argue that if a combined Ireland and New Zealand team was put together it would be comprised of purely New Zealanders. Their strength in depth is second to none as was shown in The Rugby Championship, blowing all opposition away. The world leaders are particularly deadly in the last 20 minutes of games, allowing them to seal comprehensive win after comprehensive win against what was by no measure easy opponents. Including a 57-15 victory over South Africa in the final match, the biggest defeat on home soil by a South African team. South Africa, of course, were Ireland’s last opponents as they won a thrilling series 2-1 after losing the first game. Ireland were by no means outplayed by their Southern opponents in their own back garden but were some way off the 42-point drubbing that Steve Hansen’s men gave South Africa.
However, the rugby mad public of New Zealand may not be as confident as we may think. Campbell Burnes has written for the NZ Herald in the past few weeks stating ‘All Blacks: beware’, and warning to not underestimate the plucky Irish side. Listing off an account of missed Irish opportunities from 1963 when the All Blacks left Dublin with a narrow 6-5 win to our most recent encounter where a famous Irish performance was very nearly rewarded with a win, as the home side lead in Dublin until the very final play of the game. From that 2013 team 9 players remain, and those 9 players will be keen to put to bed the ghosts of their last encounter.
Even for those who did not feature three years ago, they will need to feed off the heartbreak from the last encounter with former players Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy both recalling this week of how it was their most heartbreaking loss as a player. Ireland will need to play with a passion and intensity which we could argue has not been seen since these two sides last met but even if the stars align and the rugby gods are smiling on Ireland and playing in their own backyard may not be enough to defeat the godly figures in black they will be facing. In the final crunch quarter of the game where substitutes need to be called upon to step up, it may even be one of UCD’s bright performers who the game’s result hinges upon, win or lose.
Eoghan Brennan | Sports Writer