Old habits die hard in New Zealand
IT’S been a hectic few weeks travelling and acclimatising over here in New Zealand. Once the Irish squad was announced I was back in full training at Harlequins but because the season ended in April I would have been on my own training but for the fact that Simon Keogh was selected on the A squad. It was good to have someone else with me.
I joined up with the squad in Limerick before we departed for New Zealand last Friday week. One of the perks of the job means we get to fly business class, which made the trip very comfortable.
The team doctor gave us some important advise on how to avoid jet lag on the trip. We had left Shannon at 5pm and departed London at 10pm. He told us to stay awake for the first flight to Singapore and sleep on the second flight. Two hours into the first flight we were all sound asleep and his plan had failed.
It probably didn’t help that he had handed around the sleeping tablets before the first flight as many of the lads took theirs straight away. By the second flight to Auckland most of us were wide awake.
When we arrived in it was bucketing down. The locals at the airport were telling us the wet weather must be very familiar to us in Ireland. One or two welcomed us but informed us that we were going to be in for a tough time on the pitch.
We didn’t see another drop of rain for the rest of the week. In fact today (Monday) was the first wet day since. On our first day we had a light run out in the Eden Park back pitch and played some Gaelic football and soccer.
We were all awake at 3am or 4am the following morning as we were still acclimatising. The doctor got fined for this as his plan for us to avoid the jet lag had failed!
Our first Sunday in Auckland was very quite around the city. We just went for a walk around the town and stopped off for a coffee to try and stay awake. The place was even quieter on Monday, which had us all baffled. It wasn’t until Tuesday that we realised it had been a Bank Holiday weekend and most people had left the city for the weekend.
During last week we were mostly doing organisational work on defence and back moves. Those of us not involved in the 22 were acting as the New Zealand defence for the week.
Two of my team mates from Harlequins, George Harder and Tani Fuga, who are back home in New Zealand during the off season, took Jeremy Staunton and myself out for lunch. It was nice to get away from the hotel for a day and get some different food.
The lads are very proud of their seafood and we were treated to oysters and mussels etc. I am killed telling them that I am from the west coast of Ireland and such delicacies are not that unusual to me!
We went by bus to Hamilton on Friday afternoon. It’s about an hour and a half from Auckland. When you’re not involved in the 22 you really begin to feel envious at this stage.
The eight non-selected lads had a game of touch rugby with management in the evening. In fairness one or two of them showed they still have the old skills. Graham Steadman, our defensive coach, was man of the match and my fellow Connacht man, Mervyn Murphy, showed he hasn’t lost his touch either.
The atmosphere in Hamilton on game day was superb. The streets were packed with supporters. They love their test match rugby round here. In the stadium there were a lot of Irish there as well.
We performed very well and bounced back from a huge blow in the first minute when they scored from inside their own 22. The defence was brilliant after that and we really had them worried.
To be honest we are not happy with the defeat. The lads felt they could have won and ‘plucky losers’ is not the limit of our aspirations. They’re really focused on having a real go again next week.
We were back in the gym today and have training again tomorrow (Tuesday). Time keeping is going to be important on the tour and it was emphasised this morning when Rory Best and Denis Leamy were late for the team meeting.
In fairness they were probably just on time as everyone was ten minutes early but as punishment they have to each wear a clock around their neck for 24 hours!
You get away with very little on tour and, in fairness, the banter is good. There are also plenty of budding comedians in the squad that is for sure.
Peter Durcan started on the wing for Ireland on Friday evening in their opening under 21 World Cup game against host nation France 26-8. After a strong display, Ireland were eventually beaten by the tournament favourites and will hope to bounce back against Argentina.