EVEN if Lawrence Dallaglio might not be your national psychoanalyst of choice, he has a point when he says that Ireland don't really believe deep down that they can beat New Zealand. A record of zero wins in 22 games lends a fair bit of credence to his theory that Irish players tend to go weak at the knees at the sight of a haka.
While we have no mental block about today's opposition, there is another different All Black connection to what might transpire at Croke Park. Australia are no world-beaters, as their Tri-Nations' ledger of five defeats in six tests demonstrates, yet that recent series of arm wrestles against both New Zealand and reigning world champions, South Africa, probably gives them an edge.
The Aussies have understandably emphasised throughout the past week that Ireland are the de facto European champions, playing in their own back yard, and raring to go at the start of another international season. Against that, Rocky Elsom and his squad would have you believe they're running on empty.
Clearly, that's not the case, not from the evidence of their second-half performance at Twickenham. Although England were astonishingly bereft of attacking nous, Australia came on stronger and stronger as the good ship M Johnson listed badly, and the winning margin could've been a lot bigger. So, while Robbie Deans is laying the foundations for the side which he hopes to bring to the next World Cup, most of these Wallabies have been hardened by their Tri-Nations experience. Once they realised that England were directionless, and once they stopped giving away penalties, they won with the sort of confidence and composure that comes from a period in the trenches.
"The Aussies have been together for five months, and we're getting together after six months, and that's just the way it is," says Declan Kidney. "So, you can't drop something and expect to pick it up a few months later exactly where you left off."
The problem of course for Kidney is that even if Ireland were already simmering away at roughly the same temperature as in Cardiff last March, that still might not be enough to satisfy expectations.
The scattering of Ireland's hard-core following the Grand Slam back to their clubs, then to the Lions, and back to the clubs again means that Kidney and his players have been cramming these past couple of weeks. "It's a challenge for all the northern hemisphere teams to get it right at this time of year," shrugs the coach.
So, we know that the chessboard has been vacant for a while, but consider what the pieces have been up to since the Millennium Stadium. Of today's team and subs, 12 were with the Lions in South Africa, seven tasted Heineken Cup glory with Leinster, nine were part of Munster's Magners League success, and a further three won the Churchill Cup with Ireland A.
In short, we've never had it so good, never had so many players with so much self-belief, yet as his wont, Kidney remains the high priest of caution. "We can't afford to get greedy. A lot of the results in the Six Nations were by one score or less, so we have to be realistic. If people get greedy, then nothing happens. We can't go out thinking we can be the best team in the world and play whatever way we want to against any particular opposition. We mustn't have an unrealistic expectation of how good we are. We're a side that works hard and that has a lot of talent. Hopefully with the bit of confidence we might've picked up from last season, we'll try to take it on from there."
In other words, while the Aussies' joints are well-greased, we should anticipate some creaking. But from where? John Hayes hasn't played for six weeks, Jerry Flannery came through the captain's run yesterday morning but his calf strain will be a worry, while Cian Healy is making his debut, so the front row is the obvious answer. If South Africa or New Zealand were packing down today, then there would be realistic fears of some fast reversing by the Irish forwards, but for all their improvements they've made, scrummaging is still not in the Aussie male's DNA.
Hayes and Flannery, with all their experience, should be good for at least 60 minutes apiece, and surely the way that Healy coped with both Julian White and Martin Castrogiovanni in the Heineken Cup final means he need have no fears about taking on Ben Alexander.
Given the excellence of both Will Genia and Matt Giteau at Twickenham, there is justifiable apprehension about how well Ronan O'Gara will perform. He wasn't that hot during the Grand Slam, and over the past couple of months, he's looked about as sharp as one of Ian Humphreys' razors.
While others such as Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney have clearly kicked on, Ireland's leading points scorer appears to be in a rut. With Jonny Sexton breathing down his neck, it would be typical of O'Gara to give his doubters the two fingers, but at least we should know in a fortnight if it's time for a change.
Despite those reservations about O'Gara and the scrum, and despite the return of the magnificent Rocky Elsom replete with his insider knowledge of the Irish game, the home side doesn't look in the slightest bit vulnerable in any other area.
If Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan need to get the finger out, their only current rivals as a second row combination are Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. The balance of the back row is right – although who knows how Jonathan Kaplan will referee the breakdown – and in Fitzgerald and Bowe, there is real firepower on the wings. Les Kiss's defensive system worked a treat last season, and it shouldn't be too problematic to absorb the subtleties once again.
Last, but definitely not least, Brian O'Driscoll remains centre stage 10 years after his debut in Brisbane. As he becomes the first Irishman in history to reach the 100-test mark, he is still, remarkably, the ultimate gamebreaker as well as the ultimate defender.
Robbie Deans, for one, isn't the slightest bit surprised that O'Driscoll overcame a dip in form last year to return to his very best during the Lions tour. "Experience is a factor, especially when the enthusiasm is still there. Experience contributes to good decision-making and to composure. You've been there, you've seen it all before, nothing fazes you. And Brian's a guy who has never shied away from the physical side of the game. So, you combine that experience with a body that's in shape, and a head which is calm. You don't get to play 100 tests without being a truly remarkable player."
O'Driscoll and his team are undoubtedly good enough to win today. But when traditionally the southern hemisphere countries tend to plunder their northern counterparts at this time of the year, will Kidney and Ireland play with the swagger they're capable of?
There is no psychological hurdle at Croke Park today, the jerseys are gold not black. But hardened by their run of games, Australia will be that little bit sharper.
Ireland v Australia, Croke Park, 3.00, Live, RTÉ Two, 2.00; BBC Two, 2.30
1999: Australia 46 Ireland 10, Brisbane; Australia 32 Ireland 26, Perth; WC Ireland 3 Australia 23, Lansdowne Road
2002: Ireland 18 Australia 9, Lansdowne Road
2003: Australia 45 Ireland 16, Perth; WC Australia 17 Ireland 16, Melbourne
2005: Ireland 14 Australia 30, Lansdowne Road
2006: Australia 37 Ireland 15, Perth; Ireland 21 Australia 6, Lansdowne Road
2008: Australia 18 Ireland 12, Melbourne
beat France 30-21, Croke Park
beat Italy 38-9, Stadio Flaminio
beat England 14-13, Croke Park
beat Scotland 22-15. Murrayfield
beat Wales 17-15, Millennium Stadium
beat Canada 25-6, Vancouver
beat USA 27-10, Santa Clara
P 7 W 7 D 0 L 0
beat Italy 31-8, Canberra
beat Italy 34-12, Melbourne
beat France 22-6, Sydney
lost New Zealand 22-16, Auckland
lost South Africa 29-17, Cape Town
lost New Zealand 18-19, Sydney
lost South Africa 25-32, Perth
beat South Africa 21-6, Brisbane
lost New Zealand 33-6, Wellington
lost New Zealand 32-19, Tokyo
beat England 18-9, Twickenham
P 11 W 5 D 0 L 6
Ireland A v Argentina Jaguars, Tallaght Stadium (7.30)
Italy v South Africa, Udine (2.0); Wales v Argentina, Millennium Stadium (2.30); England v New Zealand, Twickenham (2.30); France v Samoa, Stade de France (5.0); Scotland v Australia, Murrayfield (5.15); IRELAND v Fiji, RDS (5.15)
Saturday, 28 November Italy v Samoa, Ascoli (2.0); IRELAND v South Africa, Croke Park (2.30); Scotland v Argentina, Murrayfield (2.30); Wales v Australia, Millennium Stadium (5.15); France v New Zealand, Marseille (7.45)