Brian O'Driscoll has been a magnificent servant of Irish rugby. But World Cups apart, there is one significant thing missing from his rugby CV; a win over the All Blacks.
The disappointment at losing to New Zealand last Saturday night at AMI Stadium was obvious; O'Driscoll looked completely deflated during the post-match interviews. Tonight's match in Hamilton is the last of a ten-month season for the Irish, and at age 33 it may be O'Driscoll's last chance to make Irish rugby history and captain his country to break a 107-year hoodoo.
The Irish gave the All Blacks the grand-daddy of scares in Christchurch last week, and were genuinely unlucky to not at least come away with a draw. The All Blacks may have taken a degree of compacency into the match, but the Irish hit them hard and early, and refused to let them settle.
We don't believe that will happen tonight at Waikato Stadium. Whilst the Irish have combined preparation with tourism in Queenstown, we're sure that the All Blacks will have been put through the wringer by Steve Hansen, and we fully expect them to give Ireland a taste of what New Zealand was on the receiving end of last week.
Both sides have injury-enforced changes, but the All Blacks have made a few others as well. Luke Romano makes his test debut, and Sam Cane makes his first test start in McCaw's #7 jersey. Romano has looked really good in Super Rugby, and we understand that down in Crusader country they call him Prickle; because he's like a little Thorn! The All Black scrum is ceratinly missing Brad Thorn's immense strength this year, and Romano might just provide the necessary grunt.
We like the make-up of the All Black inside backs. The two Aarons, Smith and Cruden have a couple of seasons at Manawatu together to draw on. And Sonny Bill Williams has played his best rugby yet this season outside Cruden. Hosea Gear and Ben Smith both have points to prove before the All Blacks dispand and go back to the business end of Super Rugby.
But we doubt that the Irish can get up again this week as they did last Saturday night. Performances like that are awfully hard to emulate, and Dan Carter's late field goal at Addington will not only have beaten the Irish on the scoreboard, but done some psychological damage as well. They almost got there last week, but a win against the All Blacks is still uncharted waters for the brave Irishmen.