All Blacks don't faze us, says Ireland captain O'Driscoll

Brian O'Driscoll will set out to celebrate his Test captaincy half-century by completing a full house of international scalps this evening at Croke Park, having declared that Ireland possess the self-belief to make history against the All Blacks.

New Zealand have never lost against the Irish, not in O'Driscoll's lifetime or anyone else's. In recent years, Kiwi invincibility has been challenged on a more regular basis than ever before, especially on Irish shores, where the home team have pushed them harder than any European nation.

Brian O'Driscoll

Croke blokes: Ireland¿s Brian O¿Driscoll and David Wallace re-acquaint themselves with Croke Park yesterday

But the same old story of heroic failure has been repeated time and again.

Having played a major part in narrowing the age - old gap, O'Driscoll is hell-bent on taking that final step across the divide by leading his team to victory tonight.

In his time, Leinster's Lions centre has savoured success against every major Test-playing country except New Zealand, which gives rise to the suspicion that Ireland harbour a lingering mental block against today's opponents. Yet, on the eve of his 50th match as captain, O'Driscoll begged to differ and presented a rational case for a possible upset at long last.

'I don't necessarily think it's a mental thing,' he said. 'I think where we've struggled in the past is that we've played to 60, 65 or 70 minutes, then they punish you when you knock off.

'Whatever the score is with only three or four minutes to go, they can pull rabbits out of hats, so we have to keep playing right to the end.

'Obviously there is huge respect for them, but I don't think we get caught up in believing there is an aura or mystic factor about the All Blacks. The professional era has changed all that.

'You see teams like Australia and South Africa beating them and we've beaten both of those sides substantially. So why shouldn't we be capable of beating New Zealand ourselves?'

After resting their leading lights for the Scotland match last weekend, New Zealand's deployment of a full-strength team is clear recognition of how they view the Irish threat, especially after edging to a 10-point win against them at home in June. Coach Graham Henry is certainly not taking Declan Kidney's side lightly on the second leg of their Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland.

'We think the Irish have got some players who could make serious inroads in this game,' he said. 'We respect them, they're a very strong side. They put in a good performance in Wellington against us, on a terrible night. They then played exceptionally well in Sydney against the Australians and were probably quite unlucky to lose that game. So they are a significant side.'

Yet the All Blacks are the most significant side of all, as they currently hold the world No 1 ranking that is seemingly theirs by right until a World Cup comes along.

Kidney has repeatedly referred to New Zealand as 'the Tiger Woods of rugby' and that is fair comment, despite the mass exodus of Kiwi talent to Europe and the iconic golfer's current injury-induced sabbatical.

Ireland have enough power and experience and nous to compete up front, where Paul O'Connell and David Wallace have it in them to rock the visitors back on their heels with ball in hand.

But, realistically, Kidney's men must totally eclipse the New Zealand pack or face the music out wide and that will not happen while All Black captain Richie McCaw has breath in his body. So instead of running amok, dangerous men like O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney will have to fight fires ignited by the pyrotechnic brilliance of Dan Carter.

Outside the superstar stand off, the strength of Ma'a Nonu, the wily skills of Conrad Smith and the pace of the flying Fijians - Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu - should do the rest. New Zealand's Grand Slam bandwagon will be buffeted around, but it should remain on course. History will just have to be made another day.

IRELAND: Dempsey; Bowe, O'Driscoll (capt), Fitzgerald, Kearney; O'Gara, O'Leary; Horan, Best, Hayes, O'Connell, O'Callaghan, Quinlan, Heaslip, D Wallace. Subs: Flannery, Buckley, Ferris, Jennings, Reddan, P Wallace, Earls.

NEW ZEALAND: Muliaina; Rokocoko, Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu; Carter, Cowan; Woodcock, Mealamu, Tialata, Thorn, Williams, Kaino, So'oialo, McCaw (capt). Subs: Flynn, Afoa, Boric, Read, Weepu, Donald, Toeava.

Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA). TV: BBC2 from 4.55pm (kick-off 5.15).

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