x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Return to Christchurch is stirring for All Blacks

The New Zealand national rugby team return to Christchurch for the first time since the February 2011 earthquake for a Test against Ireland.

Captain Richie McCaw, centre, says he will not have to 'push any buttons' to get New Zealand intense for a game against Ireland in Christchurch, the All Blacks first Test in the South Island city since the February 2011 earthquake.
Captain Richie McCaw, centre, says he will not have to 'push any buttons' to get New Zealand intense for a game against Ireland in Christchurch, the All Blacks first Test in the South Island city since the February 2011 earthquake.

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand // Saturday's game at the South Island's biggest city is "significant" for the All Blacks, but the world champions need no extra motivation as they prepare to face Ireland, says the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw.

The All Blacks have not played a test in Christchurch since 2010, when they beat Australia in a Tri Nations clash.

In February 2011 an earthquake devastated much of the central city, killing almost 200 people and badly affecting infrastructure in the surrounding suburbs.

Later that year, Rugby World Cup organisers were forced to strip the city of its seven matches because Lancaster Park's playing surface had been badly affected and cracks had developed in the grandstands.

The local council, and central government, helped fund the redevelopment of Rugby League Park in Christchurch's inner-west to give the Canterbury Crusaders and Canterbury provincial side a temporary base and allow the city to host All Blacks Tests - the first of which is against Ireland on Saturday.

"It might give a little bit of motivation," McCaw said in his hometown on Friday.

"I'd like to think it's there regardless but, looking at the big picture, people getting the chance to watch the All Blacks play in Christchurch is quite significant, really."

McCaw said the team bus had driven through the city before their final training session.

He doubts he will need to "push any buttons" in his final words to the team as they look to seal the three-match series with a game to spare.

He said: "We went for a drive through town on the way here, and guys, even myself, who hadn't been through there properly … you realise the significance of what's happened here.

"It was just a wee reminder of that. But that was probably enough. Pulling on the All Blacks jersey should be enough."

The Canterbury Crusaders have turned the venue, which was constructed in just 100 days, into something of a fortress this year, having won all five of their games in the park, and the closeness of the crowd to the sidelines made for an "exciting" atmosphere, Macaw said.

After experiencing the enthusiasm generated by the Crusaders fans after the team spent the entire 2011 Super Rugby season on the road, he expected it to be intensified today.

He said: "It will be nice running out here. It's a pretty cool atmosphere and … I guess it's a little bit noisier, but it's quite cool playing in a small stadium like this."

He added that he is able to pick out faces in the crowd at the park.

"It's just great from a Cantabrian's point of view to have Test footy here and that's what we're looking forward to."

Ireland's plan is to put in some crunching one-on-one tackles to try to slow the All Blacks onslaught when they meet the world champions.

New Zealand overwhelmed Ireland 42-10 at Eden Park last week, winning most of the battles at the breakdown to set up line breaks around the ruck and create mismatches in the backline.

Gordon D'Arcy, the Leinster stalwart, returns to the Ireland team at inside-centre in place of the injured Keith Earls and faces the daunting task of dealing with the threat posed by his opposite number, Sonny Bill Williams.

"The breakdown is what rugby is about. There aren't too many tries from set phase anymore," D'Arcy said.

"It's not about the first phase it's that fifth, sixth, seventh phase, that missed tackle, one-on-one and when they get in behind with three guys flooding through against the full-back.

"What we learnt was that you can't put three guys into the tackle and breakdown, especially when you have guys like Sonny Bill who can make offloads when he's got two players on him.

"We just have to have that ruthlessness in one-on-one tackles to turn the tables a little bit."

Three of the All Blacks' five tries in Auckland were the result of counterattacks as the home side benefited from some poor kicking from the Irish.

Les Kiss, the Ireland defensive coach, reiterated a comment made by the captain Brian O'Driscoll that his side would need to put more emphasis on their kick chase.

"The kick chase really needs to be up there," Kiss said. "There needs to be an intensity that will take away their options … and if we do that we will be able to negate the way they run back."

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