Ireland hopes to harness Cubs spirit and end 111-year All Black drought in Chicago
Unstoppable New Zealanders look to continue their record-breaking streak against a side they have never lost to
Ireland will attempt to emulate the Chicago Cubs by ending more than a century of futility on Sunday morning (Hong Kong time) against a record-breaking New Zealand side chasing rugby immortality.
Chicago has been engulfed by rapturous celebrations this week after the Cubs erased 108 years of torment by finally winning baseball’s World Series with a come-from-behind defeat of the Cleveland Indians.
Ireland, however, have an even longer-running tale of woe when it comes to meetings with New Zealand – in 28 matches since 1905, they have never beaten the All Blacks.
Like the Cubs – until this season at any rate – there have been plenty of near-misses and gallant failures along the way.
Three years ago Ireland led 19-0 in Dublin only to lose 24-22 with the last kick of the match.
Ireland’s no-nonsense Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt is reluctant to see the Cubs’ success as an omen.
“Gee, I’d love to believe in omens but I don’t,” Schmidt said.
“I’m not superstitious at all. 1908? That’s a bit similar to 1905. But I think the similarities stop there.”
Schmidt meanwhile is adamant that Ireland’s 111-year wait for a first victory over New Zealand does not weigh heavily on his squad’s psyche.
“It doesn’t have a direct relevance for us, other than the continued frustration that it’s a game, and a team, that has been pretty elusive,” Schmidt said.
“But in world rugby we’re not the only ones.
“There’s a number of other teams around the world who haven’t managed to do it and who would love to be where we are now.”
That said, there will not be a happier man than Schmidt at Soldier Field on Sunday should Ireland manage to upset the New Zealanders.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 4, 2016
“I would be delighted for the players, and for the past players who can’t wait to see it happen,” said Schmidt.
“And all the supporters who’ve had a number of visits to All Black fixtures and never had a result.”
The odds, however, are stacked against Ireland, who have had less than a week in camp together to prepare for what will be their first test match since a 2-1 series defeat to South Africa in June.
World champions New Zealand meanwhile head into their second visit to Soldier Field – they trounced the United States at the venue in 2014 – brimming with confidence after completing their Bledisloe Cup series whitewash over Australia in Auckland last month.
That 37-10 win was a record 18th consecutive victory.
A clean sweep on their northern hemisphere tour, which also includes tests against Italy and France, as well as a return fixture with Ireland in Dublin, would see the Kiwis finish the year with 22 straight wins, an astounding achievement in the modern era.
The longest unbeaten streak in rugby history stands at 23 – when New Zealand compiled 22 wins and one draw between 1987 and 1990.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, however, is not looking past Sunday’s date in Chicago against an Irish side he rates highly.
“I know that this Irish side is a good team,” Hansen said.
“Last time we played them they should have won. They’ve only got better since then.
“They’ve beaten South Africa this year and had a great series against them. So they’ll be full noise on Saturday. We’ll need to be full noise too.”
New Zealand’s preparations have been complicated by injuries to their star locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. Another second row, Luke Romano, flew back to New Zealand this week after a family bereavement.
Hansen has turned to blindside flanker Jerome Kaino to plug the gap at lock, where the Blues player will pack down alongside Patrick Tuipulotu.
Behind the pack, Aaron Smith returns to partner Beauden Barrett, the scrum half’s first start since his involvement in an airport toilet sex scandal in September.
In Cardiff on Saturday, Wales will be looking to snap an 11-match losing streak against Australia that dates back to 2008.