If there is one big hole in Brian O’Driscoll’s glittering career then it is a win over the All Blacks.
As the 2005 British & Irish Lions skipper prepares to lead his Irish side into battle against the world’s top ranked team in New Plymouth on Saturday he will know he has been close to victory in the past, but has never been able to savour success in eight games against New Zealand.
O’Driscoll has been on the losing side on seven occasions with his country and once more with the Lions when his second tour came to a heartbreaking end through a shoulder injury just minutes into the opening Test in Christchurch.
Catching the All Blacks in their first Test of the summer will be a bonus and Irish coach Declan Kidney has brought back all his available big guns by making 10 changes from the side that went down to the Barbarians in Limerick a week ago.
But at 31, and with 107 Test caps for Ireland the Lions behind him, O’Driscoll knows the enormity of any challenge in New Zealand.
“It's tough to go to a more difficult place than New Zealand playing the All Blacks. But you want to test yourself as a rugby player by coming to the toughest places and playing against the best teams,” said O’Driscoll.
“I thoroughly look forward to the challenge of both. It hasn't happened for me to date against the All Blacks, but it's going to happen some time before the world implodes.
“Let's hope it happens sooner rather than later. The key to playing against New Zealand is you have to finish strong. That's what we've struggled to do in the past.
“Any time we've pushed them somewhat close, they probably won that last 20 minutes. There is no point trying to hang in there with them – we've got to try to go after it, get ourselves in front and continue playing rugby.”
All Blacks’ skipper Richie McCaw knows a thing or two about finishing strongly against the Irish. He made his debut against the men in green at Lansdowne Road in 2001 and found himself in a team that seemed to be somewhat floundering at 21-7 down early in the second half.
It appeared to be the moment for the Irish to break their duck against rugby’s world super-power, but by the end the All Blacks had hit back to win 40-29. Having hauled that one out of the fire, McCaw won’t want to be in charge of the first New Zealand side to lose to Ireland after 22 successive wins since fixtures began in 1905.
There have been some close shaves, though, since McCaw's debut in 2001 – 15-6 in Dunedin in 2002, 34-23 in Hamilton followed by 27-17 at Auckland in 2006 and 21-11 in Wellington two years ago.
“Ireland are a team that we are going to have to perform against to win. I can see we have that attitude from the first few days of training, which is great,” said the All Blacks skipper who will win his 81st cap at the weekend.
“You are straight into it and you have to perform. That's what you want – you don't want to go into a game against a team on who you should put 50 or 60 points.
“I've never had an easy one against them. It's always been a match where you have had to play well to get the result you wanted.
“They are a physical side, especially up front. They have a lot of guys who have played a lot of tests together now and all it takes is a bit of belief to get a bit of momentum.
“They have had that and they will come here thinking that they can perform as well as they have done. I don't think they will do too much different from what has worked for them in the past and it will take a while to get on top.”
Ireland: Robert Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary; Cain Healy, Sean Cronin, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, John Muldoon, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: John Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Dan Tuohy, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Geordan Murphy