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Luke Fitzgerald’s Ireland v New Zealand Preview & Analysis

We caught up with former Ireland player Luke Fitzgerald for his Ireland v New Zealand preview and analysis ahead of Saturday’s big game.

Fitzgerald tackled all of the big talking points heading into this Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final against New Zealand.

That includes Ireland’s use of pre-match comments for motivation, how the team will handle their status as favourites against the All Blacks, the impact of James Ryan’s absence and much more!

Ireland Using Pre-Match Comments From All Blacks & Scots For Motivation

New Zealand saying Ireland are our preferred opponents will be pretty motivating but will be overshadowed by their sheer will to win a quarterfinal whoever the opposition is.

New Zealand will want to add a bit of spice, not least given what went on in the summer series in New Zealand and the viewpoint that seems to be out there that Ireland seem to have their number.

That is fair enough. The record over the last couple of years is extremely one-sided. That is very unusual over the history of the rivalry.

Not sure how much it will affect the overall match but certainly in the first five or ten minutes you would expect a few of those early collisions to be fairly tasty. A few people are looking to settle scores and put down a marker.

Keeping Calm vs Using Pre-Match Comments As Motivation

They’ve never played too much on my mind. But for some people it does. It is a very individual thing.

You only have to see what Peter O’Mahony comments after the Scotland game. He’d obviously been reading some of the press and what some individuals had to say.

Given the history of that fixture Ireland have been very successful in recent years. The Scottish comments might well have motivated Ireland, with players saying: ‘Look guys this is what they think of us.’ You have to use what is available to you in your motivation.

This sort of thing won’t be important against New Zealand in terms of a motivating factor. If you can’t get motivated for the All Blacks in a quarter final of the World Cup, you don’t belong.

For the guys in the Ireland camp a lot of the focus will be on the technical aspect, where they feel they might have an advantage over New Zealand.

Ireland’s New Status As Favourites Against The All Blacks

My view is that they [New Zealand] have always had only one way to play; a case of try to stop us. They never put a massive amount of time into thinking too much about the opposition. Whereas Ireland have had to do that.

Ireland now play a New Zealand type game. Top of the ground, everyone is a good handler of the ball, lots of threats, in the pack and out wide, really accurate at ruck time, playing at a high pace. That is what you have traditionally associated with New Zealand.

Ireland now does that but BETTER. This group of players is really good at that. For the first time ever the All Blacks will be thinking about us, not focussing solely on themselves.

In the past New Zealand teams probably couldn’t name an Irish player other than Brian O’Driscoll. In press conferences it was obvious they knew little or nothing about us. We have been analysing them to the nth degree.

That will change going into the match this weekend, especially with Joe Schmidt there. They are going to have to focus on Ireland and figure out ways of trying to stop this Irish team. Ireland are the slight favourites and New Zealand will have to change their thinking.

The Impact Of Irish Fans On The Game

The level of support really does lift a team. I think it has more of a bearing for the guys in the pack, after a big push or a maul, they feed into the energy of the crowd roar. To get that from a crowd really adds value.

In the backs you have to be a bit more cold and calculating. You are not digging into the energy reserves as much.

Impact Of Ireland’s Injury Issues

They can deal with one injury in the back three, and it’s good that Hansen has been declared fit.

Hansen has been on fire. He was so good against Scotland. A brilliant reader of the game. He has really broadened his game and his defence has improved hugely. He’s made some brilliant reads for the Irish team.

James Ryan was probably the most important one to have had back. And the fact he’s missing is a big blow. He has been a real presence in the Irish team. He is at the peak of his physical powers. That said Ireland should still have an advantage in the pack. 

Aki And Henshaw The Two Best Inside Centres In The World

The only guy who might be better inside centre than Bundee at the moment in the world is Robbie Henshaw and he’s injured.

Bundee is on fire he has been a real focal point for the Irish team, one of those guys able to take the ball up and get a metre when no-one else maybe could. He’s playing with massive belief and physicality.

He probably has a point to prove given the NZRFU let him go. He will have a score to settle there. So will James Gibson-Park. It’s always nice to have a few guys in your armoury who might well save their best game for the team they’ve left. They want to say: ‘Look what you’re missing guys.”

Would World Cup Glory Make Sexton Ireland’s Greatest Ever?

What a player, what a leader. It was a real luxury that they were able to take him off so early against Scotland when the game was a foregone conclusion. That could have a massive bearing on the New Zealand game.

With him on the pitch Ireland can beat any team and might even be favourites against the All Blacks.

He must be very much in the conversation, for me though Brian O’Driscoll currently is the greatest Ireland player. But a World Cup win does put you in a different stratosphere!

Brian is up there with all time world greats, like Richie McCaw and Jonny Wilkinson and the only thing that might separate Brian from them is the World Cups. He is up there in that rarified space.

I can’t believe Johnny is a couple of years older than me and still playing. He’s in great shape physically, the mind is as sharp as ever if not sharper. 

But we can’t ignore Jack Crowley and Ross Byrne, the two understudies. They’ve been excellent. Sexton will be a massive loss when he retires but I do think those two belong.

It is not as it was previously. They are two guys ready to step in. They won’t do the same job as Johnny but this Irish team is not dead and buried if Johnny is off the pitch.

Luke Fitzgerald’s Prediction: Ireland will win by four. 

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