Scrum-half Aaron Smith admitted Friday that New Zealand still carry “scar tissue” from their loss to Ireland last year, and will use it to fuel a furious response in the first Test in Auckland.
Smith also said the Irish could no longer expect to be underrated by any All Blacks team given the recent run of results between them, which will also motivate the hosts at Eden Park on Saturday.
Last November’s emphatic 29-20 win in Dublin was Ireland’s third in their last five meetings with New Zealand — a ratio no international team has achieved against the All Blacks since South Africa in 2009.
“There’s obviously still scar tissue, you’d be silly not to think about last year,” Smith said.
“This group has been excited, looking at the footage and learning from that game. There’s a lot of hungry people on the bus ready to put their foot forward.
“And these days it doesn’t get much bigger than Ireland coming here. Definitely in the last 5-6 years, the rivalry has grown.”
Loose forward Caelan Doris is one of 10 Ireland players starting this weekend who ran out at Dublin, where he scored a memorable try.
Doris had no doubt the eight returning starters from New Zealand would be eyeing retribution and that they would appreciate playing the game at Eden Park, where the All Blacks’ remarkable unbeaten Test run dates back to 1994.
“It’s not the end of their season like it was last year for them, and they’re in their comfort zone, they’re at Eden Park, they’ve got that track record here,” Doris said.
“For us to come over to their back yard, the best nation in the world, it’s a chance to create a bit of history by winning.”
Doris is one of 12 Ireland starters from Leinster, who have been a dominant club force in Europe over the last two years, a period in which the national team has won 12 of their last 13 Tests.
Ongoing Irish success had created a momentum they didn’t want to lose on what is an intensely difficult New Zealand tour, he said.
“I think there’s huge belief in individuals and in ourselves after some of the performances we’ve had over the last 18 months or so,” he said.
“It’s been building and we genuinely believe that if we get ourselves right and we perform to our capability we can beat anybody we play on the day.
“It’s pretty exciting to be in that sort of space.”
Ireland’s breakdown speed has become a weapon, something noticed by Smith, who watched the loss in Dublin, injured, from the grandstand.
Most telling was how New Zealand-born Irish halfback Jamison Gibson-Park was able to control the game, Smith said, underlining how much he has blossomed into a world-class No.9.
“He’s forged out an awesome career at Leinster and now he’s transferred it to Test level. He likes to play that tempo game,” Smith said.
“So he’s a big part of our plans, trying to make sure he has a slower night than how they like to play. Hopefully he won’t have such a nice ride this time.”