Ronan Kelleher, the hooker for Ireland, acknowledges that a “do or die” Rugby World Cup quarter-final with New Zealand is the stuff of dreams, but he intends to treat the biggest game of his career as if it were any other.
On Saturday, the Irish will take on the three-time defending champions in an effort to get to the semifinals for the first time.
The extraordinary unbeaten record of Andy Farrell’s team was extended to 17 games when they prevailed over Scotland to extend their lead atop Pool B.
“You just have to play the game in front of you,” said Kelleher, who is now 25 years old.
At the same stage four years earlier in Japan, the fearsome All Blacks humiliated Ireland by scoring 46 points to their opponent’s 14.
Kelleher, who was playing in his first tournament, instantly got the first of his 25 international caps after his country was eliminated convincingly in Tokyo. Head coach Farrell had selected Kelleher for the 2020 Six Nations campaign before the tournament even began.
“I suppose it is something you’d dream about, on the big stage, probably the biggest game of my career so far,” he said of playing against the New Zealanders. “It’s probably the biggest game of my career so far.”
“As we’ve been going through the week and discussing things with the lads, we’ve realized that you have to take each game as it comes.
“For me personally, it will be handled like another test match. I just need to make sure that I get through all of my details and preparation, and if I am selected, I need to make sure that I am prepared to perform a job.
“We are well aware that it is going to be a really difficult test, but it is still one that we are very much looking forward to. It’s evident that it’s either do or die.”
“A monumental test match.”
Since Farrell took over for Joe Schmidt following the conclusion of the previous World Cup, Ireland has defeated New Zealand in three of the four matches that have taken place between the two countries.
Kelleher was a member of the side that triumphed over the All Blacks by a score of 29-20 in November of 2021; however, he was injured and unable to participate in the 2-1 tour victory that took place the previous summer.
Overall, the Six teams winners have prevailed in five of the most recent eight encounters between the teams, including a historic first victory in Chicago under Schmidt’s leadership seven years ago.
Kelleher, who was only a schoolboy at the time, claimed that the run of results has helped contribute to a diminished aura surrounding the three-time world champion All Blacks.
“Yeah, I suppose,” he said in continuation. “But of course we are aware of how strong of a team they are, and in particular how they compete in significant competitions.
“I’m just looking forward to this weekend, we know it’s going to be a massive challenge, a huge Test match, but one we’re really looking forward to.”
“We are content with where we are”
Kelleher is likely to offer back-up for Dan Sheehan at the Stade de France after performing that position in Saturday’s victory over Scotland, which saw Ireland beat holders South Africa to top spot in their pool. The victory allowed Ireland to overtake Scotland for the top spot in their pool.
Because of a run of frustrating injury setbacks, he was unable to participate in the series that was played in New Zealand the year before. He is now hoping that these obstacles are in the past.
“It’s great to be back out there,” Kelleher said after returning to the field. “Up to this point, I’ve been blessed with playing time in all of the games, and I can honestly say that this is something that I couldn’t be more thankful for.
“In terms of what I’ve been able to contribute, it’s been fantastic. It’s important to maintain this forward momentum, and we’re content with where we are in the process at the moment.