Bradley challenges Irish tourists

Michael Bradley has challenged his Ireland squad to “make a statement” on their tour of New Zealand and Australia.

Bradley, the side’s coach until Munster’s Heineken Cup-winning supremo Declan Kidney takes charge later this summer, takes his squad to Wellington on Friday.

The All Blacks and Wallabies await in one-off games, with Test match history suggesting Ireland could struggle.

They have never beaten New Zealand - home or away - from 20 attempts, while their last eight Tests against Australia Down Under all produced defeats in a sequence stretching back almost 30 years.

Ireland though, are under pressure to improve their current International Rugby Board world ranking of eighth following a dismal World Cup campaign and disappointing RBS 6 Nations tournament earlier this season.

The draw for World Cup 2011 in New Zealand will be based on the rankings on December 1 this year.

Ireland, though, might never have a better chance of beating either southern hemisphere giant on foreign soil.

New Zealand are rebuilding after their World Cup flop, with established stars such as Chris Jack, Byron Kelleher, Doug Howlett and Jerry Collins among a long list of unavailable players.

Australia, meanwhile, have a new coach at the helm in Canterbury Crusaders boss Robbie Deans, whose first squad is likely to include several new faces.

Assessing New Zealand’s situation, Bradley said: “There are 10 or 11 players who have moved on from the World Cup, and they haven’t played an international since then.

“But they are a country of quality players. New Zealand are extremely dangerous when the perception is that they might be under pressure. We’ve got to be very aware of that.

“I am very happy travelling out with this group of players. Hopefully, we can make a statement when we are out there, and maybe impove our world ranking as well.”

Whether or not Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll is part of that mission, remains to be seen.

O’Driscoll missed last night’s tour warm-up win against the Barbarians in Gloucester, returning to Dublin just hours before kick-off following the death of a close friend.

Wing Shane Horgan took over as skipper, scoring two of Ireland’s five tries in a 39-14 success that also featured a double for number eight Jamie Heaslip.

Speaking directly after the game, Ireland lock Bob Casey said: “It’s a very sad day. All our thoughts are with Brian and the family of his friend and his loved ones.

“The boys were very professional. We spoke about it beforehand, and the reaction of the guys shows how much they think of Brian.”

Connacht’s Gavin Duffy was drafted into midfield alongside Luke Fitzgerald, and Ireland produced some quality, high-tempo rugby to comfortably see off a Barbarians side that included the likes of Lesley Vainikolo, Stephen Larkham, Michael Claassens and Cobus Visagie.

Bradley added: “We set our stall out in terms of defence and a couple of objectives in relation to that, and also we had worked on our off-loading game and our phase play the last couple of weeks.

“The 22 players involved did very well. We are obviously very happy. That Barbarians side had very good players in terms of names on the park.

“They didn’t perform as well as you might have expected, but that was due to the pressure we put on them and the intensity the lads performed at for the full 80 minutes.

“We can only take out of the game what we can in terms of the positives, and we are very happy.”

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