Andy Farrell excited as Ireland’s preparation for New Zealand tests begin in Auckland
After a few low-key days to kick the jet lag and settle into life in New Zealand, Ireland stepped things up a notch today with a rigorous training session that shook whatever cobwebs lingered on the back of the long journey from Dublin.
North Harbour Stadium, on the outskirts of Auckland, was the setting, as Andy Farrell and his coaches put the players through their paces ahead of a big week.
The majority of the 40-man squad trained, as Farrell looks to juggle preparations for the opening game against the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton on Wednesday before Saturday's first Test at Eden Park.
The players and backroom staff arrived on three different flights from Ireland, but having been together since the early part of the week, Farrell upped the intensity before the squad enjoy a down-day tomorrow, leading into the Test week.
“We’re here, we’re glad to be here,” Farrell said. “We’ve had a few days’ training and we’re up and running.
“It’s huge. We’ve missed it. This group, we should have gone to Australia and Fiji in the last few years and we’ve some guys that are on 20 or so caps that have never toured before.
“So it’s pretty important that we get away together and enjoy each other’s company but also test ourselves against the best team in the world.”
Despite coming into this daunting tour on the back of a win over New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium last November, Farrell is adamant that the same level of performance will not be enough to create history by beating the All Blacks in their own backyard for the first time.
“I wouldn’t say confidence because every time you put an Irish shirt on there’s always an element of nerves and hope we can perform and can be as good as we were then. But in reality the boys know that that’s not going to be good enough this time round,” Farrell warned.
“We know what we’re coming up against. We know that it’s a different kettle of fish, Eden Park first up. We know how special that place is to the All Blacks. It’s great for us though. It’s great.
“We want to see ourselves under extreme pressure and how we deal with that so therefore it’s good all round.”
Farrell knows exactly what it takes to win in New Zealand, having helped the Lions to a Test win in 2017, but he is equally well-aware of how difficult it is in this part of the world.
“It’s unbelievably tough to come over here and be successful,” Farrell said.
“Defining what success is bit different for some people. We’ve got a group of 40 that’s come out here because of everything we’ve just talked about regarding not touring before and lack of game-time opportunity.
“Some guys are playing against the Maori team on Wednesday night and they’ve been dying for a chance to play in big games and it doesn’t get any bigger for them so it’s a great challenge all round.
"Then players being out of their comfort zone, five or six of them backing up in a Test match on Saturday against the All Blacks, it doesn’t get more challenging but at the same time, it’s where we want to be.
“We want to be at a stage where a year or so out from a World Cup we want to find out more about ourselves and this is a perfect place to do that.
“There’s some people who were involved in 2012 so there’s a few scars from that tour, but we’re lucky enough that there’s a few guys that came here with the Lions in 2017. I think that tells a story of the challenge ahead as well.
“I think the moral of the story back home after the Lions Series draw was one of success and that was the best of the best touring these shores, so you can see what type of test it is for little old Ireland.
“But having said that, challenges are there to make us better, make us stronger and we’ve got to be ready to meet those head on.
“We'll be up for the challenge, there’s no doubt. How we go after the game is pretty important to us because you can’t just sit back and hope things are going to go all right because they probably won’t if you have that type of mindset. So our mentality is going to be pretty important.”
Farrell's men have been 'welcomed' in New Zealand by a series of billboards poking fun at Ireland's dismal record on Kiwi soil, but the Ireland boss sees it as a mark of respect.
“We’ve seen a few billboards that are up there, which are great,” he smiled.
“Walking through the streets of Auckland, there’s always a back-handed compliment shall we say, which is great. It’s what we expect and we love that. We take it on the chin and we move onto the next one, don’t we?”
Following today's session, Ireland were joined by students from De La Salle College, based in South Auckland, as several players ran through a series of skill drills, including one which involved a hurley, sliotar and Gaelic football brought from home.
“We’re here to enjoy ourselves, to show that Irish rugby is a community within itself as well, and we want to spread the word of rugby and be good people on tour,” Farrell added.
“It’s important to us that we embrace not just the 70 people that we’ve got on tour but embrace the whole nature of touring New Zealand.
“So having these kids here today is great for us to understand the history and culture of not just Auckland but of New Zealand as well.”
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