The All Blacks desperately want Ireland to give them a run for their money in the first Test in Hamilton on Saturday.
Coach Graham Henry’s meticulous planning towards the 2007 World Cup gets a tough exam when a distinctly experimental-looking team of All Blacks kick-off their international season. However, his gambles have paid rich dividends in the past, non more so than when he mad 15 changes to the team that thrashed Wales only to hammer Ireland 43-7 at Lansdowne Road last November
That said, it is a huge gamble to blood up to five new players and to start a highly promising but still unproven centre and an internationally inexperienced flyhalf against the Six Nations triple crown winners.
Henry’s risk is increased by the fact that Ireland’s pack is dominated by the Munster forwards who won the European Cup last month and that captain Brian O’Driscoll and lock Paul O’Connell return to the side thrashed by the All Blacks at the end of last year.
Both will be aching for revenge for last year’s British and Irish Lions humiliation too. “We’ve never beaten the All Blacks in the history of Irish rugby so it’s the kind of Everest we’re all trying to climb at the end of the day, and if we could do it away from home it would be even sweeter,” Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan told reporters.
“We know if we get things right on Saturday I think we’ll go very close but if we don’t we’ll get a spanking for our troubles like we did in the autumn.”
Henry has given Test debuts at Waikato stadium to loosehead prop Clarke Dermody and South African-born lock Greg Rawlinson. Three other players, flanker Jerome Kaino, flyhalf David Hill and winger Scott Hamilton could make their debuts off the bench.
Much has also been made of picking two specialist openside flankers, with new captain Richie McCaw partnering Marty Holah on the side of the scrum.
Henry would not say who will play on the openside but his intention to upset Ireland at the breakdown and gain quick ball to spread it wide is evident.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 Aaron
Mauger, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Byron Kelleher; 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Marty Holah, 5 Greg Rawlinson, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Clarke Dermody.
Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Peter Stringer; 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Neil Best, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)