Brian O’Driscoll believes New Zealand have failed to replace key players, stripping the defending champions of their aura of invincibility heading into next year’s World Cup in Japan.
Ireland’s first home win over the All Blacks has seen them significantly close the gap on the World’s No1 side and O’Driscoll is backing his countrymen to build on their 16-9 triumph by recording a second successive Six Nations Grand Slam.
O’Driscoll, the former Ireland captain, highlighted five areas where New Zealand are struggling to replace proven test players and said: “The gap has massively reduced between New Zealand and everyone else because they have been beaten twice this year by South Africa in Wellington and Ireland in Dublin.
“I would never dream of saying New Zealand are vulnerable but I don’t think they have anything like the aura of invincibility of other New Zealand teams.
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“They simply haven’t replaced like for like in certain positions and I am thinking about Richie McCaw and his leadership also his play; Sam Cane at openside due to his neck injury and in the centres they haven’t replaced Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
“I don’t believe they have found a replacement for Jerome Kaino at No.6 while Wyatt Crockett has been missed from the front row as he has been coming back from injury. Of course, they have picked some great players but the guys who have come in are not to the same calibre and, as a result, teams think they can get after them this year. And it was nearly an England win as well.”
While the All Blacks have returned home with questions over their ability to rediscover the way to dominate the sport, O’Driscoll is confident Ireland are on an upward curve and has welcomed an end to speculation over head coach Joe Schmidt’s tenure. He will be replaced by defence coach Andy Farrell after the World Cup with Ronan O’Gara, who is helping coach the Crusaders, one player earmarked to join a new look Irish coaching set up.
O’Driscoll, who is currently at the Dubai Sevens as an ambassador for HSBC “It was a great November series for Ireland and it’s the first time with the four matches which gave the young guys game time. To get four victories in the manner they were achieved has given them a real shot in the arm going into the World Cup next year in Japan.
“If they can continue this form they are going to be a very difficult team to beat. I am pleased all the speculation about Joe Schmidt is over and he can concentrate on the Six Nations and trying to possibly get back-to-back Grand Slams.
“The talk is now about winning the World Cup rather than about reaching a semi-final for the first time which no Irish team has managed.
“Continuing with Andy Farrell taking over is really good and there is a winning culture and lot of the same philosophy will remain. Farrell can bring in his own support staff and that may be Ronan O’Gara or someone else who will fit the mould really well. It is a fantastic year for Irish rugby.”
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