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Joe Schmidt rejects All Blacks claim they will be underdogs in Dublin

Published 17/11/2016

Sean O'Brien, pictured right, is back in the Ireland team
Sean O'Brien, pictured right, is back in the Ireland team

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has laughed off New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen's claim that the All Blacks will be underdogs when the teams meet for a second time in a fortnight at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Ireland downed the All Blacks 40-29 at Soldier Field in Chicago on November 5, for their first-ever win over New Zealand in 111 years of trying.

That has prompted Hansen to suggest that Ireland hold the upper hand ahead of this weekend's rematch - an assertion Schmidt rejects.

"You'd love to think that we're favourites wouldn't you?" said Schmidt.

"But I wouldn't suggest that Steve Hansen become a bookmaker.

"I think we're at about 6/1; not that we're allowed to indulge in that. It's a bit better than the 13/1 we were in Chicago.

"You certainly wouldn't put us as favourites. I think everyone is due a hiccup."

Schmidt does not believes Hansen was indulging in mind games by branding Ireland as favourites, despite the All Blacks' impressive record under the 57-year-old.

The back-to-back world champions boast a 92 per cent win rate under Hansen's stewardship, losing just four of his 66 matches at the helm.

"I don't think so, I know Steve pretty well," said Schmidt, rejecting the suggestions of mind games from Hansen.

"Based on a recent result he's put his summation on that. I don't think he believes we'll pay too much heed to that, because we know the quality they are.

"Part of that quality is their coaching team. I learned a lot off some of the people who are involved there.

"I think they are still in a really strong position."

Ireland ended New Zealand's record-breaking 18-match winning streak in Chicago, but Schmidt has since insisted his side caught the All Blacks at an "opportune moment" due to injuries.

"We just want to try to focus on our own performance, try to use Chicago as a reference point," Schmidt said.

"I certainly don't believe that there was any disrespect from the All Blacks or arrogance in Chicago.

"We've got huge respect for them, how could you not have for a team that's won the last two World Cups."

Ireland show just one change from the starting XV that claimed that maiden victory over New Zealand, with Sean O'Brien slotting in at openside flanker.

The Leinster back-rower will make his first start since February after long-term hamstring trouble.

Fit-again Iain Henderson steps up to the bench with Ultan Dillane suffering slight knee trouble, and Garry Ringrose among the replacements too, due to Keith Earls' dead leg.

Schmidt admitted New Zealand will prove a vastly-different proposition in Dublin thanks to the restoration of fit-again lock duo Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

Wing Simon Zebo also shrugged off New Zealand installing themselves as underdogs, insisting they still arrive in Dublin as the world's best Test team.

"I don't know if we're favourites to be honest," said Zebo.

"They were the best team in the world two weeks ago, and I''m sure they still are the best team in the world.

"I think Steve Hansen's just being modest. We put in a good performance the last day, but we all know New Zealand are going to perform a hell of a lot better this time."

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