14 Nov 2018

All Black tour diary: Onwards to the Dublin showdown

4:03 pm on 14 November 2018

The England test at Twickenham bucked the expectations of a blowout All Black win, but did prove an ultimately much more important point in the All Blacks' mission to retain the World Cup, writes Jamie Wall.

All Blacks haka

All Blacks haka Photo: Photosport

Instead of burying the English in the pool table-like pitch at the ground they call 'Headquarters', the All Blacks withstood a ferocious opening spell. They then knuckled down and wrestled back control, scoring just enough to win the game and send a statement that they can play primitive rugby better than anyone else.

That's the sort of game that may well be required next year in Japan, when everything will be on the line.

As for the Twickenham experience itself, if you're a critic of access problems to Eden Park you'll probably have a heart attack if you made your way to the home of English rugby. Trains run from the city and are completely rammed with spectators all day. The ground holds a tick over 82,000, making it the largest park in the world solely built for rugby, and pretty much all of those attending the game catch the train.

Leaving at midday for a 3pm kickoff made no difference and neither did leaving an hour and a half after full time. Twickenham turns into a giant outdoor bar for the day and evening, so travel to and from was a succession of queues at the one railway station around a kilometre from the venue. That's what you get for picking a spot for your stadium 109 years ago, I guess.

However, that's about the only complaint from an unforgettable day at Twickenham. My seat was bang on halfway and directly opposite Prince Harry. Afterwards Eddie Jones was magnanimous regarding the TMO decision that decided the game, sagely noting that 'sometimes rugby loves you, sometimes it doesn't.

The game itself, as well as the subsequent talking points after, left us heading to Ireland wondering just how the All Blacks are going to get themselves up for another massively hyped game. But then again, this was all part of the plan - to simulate the sort of pressures they'll be under this time next year.

Dublin feels a few degrees colder than London, at least at this stage of the week anyway. Autumnal foliage is all over the pavements and cobbled streets of the old part of the city, overlooked by statues of James Joyce and Irish republican heroes. The All Blacks have based themselves about 20 minutes away from the centre of town, carrying on with their policy of spending as little time traveling to their training venues as possible.

The mood among Irish fans is unfortunately a bit glum. Injuries look to have robbed them of three of their main weapons - Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Sean O'Brien have all been ruled out, and it's the loss of the star halfback that's had most folks here writing off their own team's chances. You can somewhat relate to it if you're a long-suffering Hurricanes or Warriors fan, in all honesty. If you keep your expectations low, you're never disappointed.

But there should be a bit more fight in this Irish side, or at least there should be according to their world ranking. This is an unofficial shootout for the top spot in the world, a year out from a World Cup in which these two sides may well cross paths as early as the quarter finals.

Till then, there's plenty to do in yet another fascinating city that the All Blacks frequent. Dublin is a beautifully historical place, with a vibrant inner city and bar district. It's safe to say a few Guinness will be finding their way past the lips of the traveling press corps - if this test is anywhere near as intense as the one against England, we're going to need some.