'I might set him up': New Zealand coach Steve Hansen warns Ireland's Joe Schmidt over World Cup quarter-final preparation
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has warned Joe Schmidt not to try and be too clever ahead of Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final.
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As Ireland made their way to Tokyo this afternoon, the New Zealand supremo booked himself in for an audience with the media to set the agenda for the week ahead.
He praised Saturday’s opponents, but dismissed the relevance of the four previous matches between the teams which have resulted in two wins a-piece.
The last defeat came 11 months ago in Dublin, with Jacob Stockdale’s try the difference between the teams.
That score came from one of Schmidt’s trade-mark set-plays, which he later revealed he’d taken from the Highlanders’ play-book.
Asked if he was concerned that the Ireland coach has something fresh up his sleeve for this weekend’s crunch clash, Hansen tried to turn the tables by suggesting he'd been double-bluffing his opposite number to lure him into a trap.
"Look, we have got weaknesses like everybody else so we got to look at our weaknesses as much as anyone else does," he said.
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"We know that Joe does a lot of study. That can be a strength and a weakness. I might be able to set him up."
As he planted that seed, the man who led New Zealand to the 2015 World Cup having assisted Graham Henry in 2011 said that this was a whole new ball game compared to matches in November.
"There is a lot of respect from both sides," he said. "We played them in November and it was a titanic struggle but on the day they were the better side.
"Most teams we play get up 10 percent better than they normally do. They are no different. The big difference here is it is a do or die game for both teams.
"They are a quality side, they’ve been number one this year, and the last three results are loss, win, loss so there won’t be any complacency in our camp. It is pretty exciting. We are right where we want to be."
Asked why Ireland have had the whip-hand in recent times, Hansen referred back to his side’s 111-year stranglehold on the fixture.
"It has taken them a long time to get there – they obviously enjoyed [winning] – so they want to keep doing it," he quipped.
"They are pretty set in how they play, just like we are.
"They play to their strengths. Conor Murray does a lot of kicking, they use Sexton to drive them around the park and their big forwards to carry. Why would they want to change, that’s been very successful for them."
Are they, a New Zealand journalist asked, a one-man team – with Sexton being that man?
"Aw I think they are better than just a one man team. But your 10 is pretty important," came the reply.
It could be argued that the four games between these coaches have defined Schmidt’s tenure with Ireland.
Like the Ireland coach, Hansen will step down after the tournament concludes and for one of them Saturday will be their last game in charge.
He’s enjoyed the challenge of facing Ireland, but it was no surprise to hear the world champion bat away the idea that these matches have had a similar significance for him.
"I don’t know if they have defined us as a team. Every test match is an opportunity to express yourself. As a coach I am privileged to have coached one test never mind the many we have. I just enjoy the moment," he said.
"I particularly enjoy what we are going into – a big pressure moment. The team that copes with that the best will probably come out on top.
"This is why it is called a test match – tests you both mentally and physically.
"I think they brought out the best in us for a long, long time. We enjoy playing them and that hasn’t changed because they have beaten us a few times.
"A lot of people are getting caught up in the past. It’s about what is happening on Saturday that is going to matter. Anything that has happened in the past is irrelevant.
"If we are good enough on the day then we are good enough, if we are not we are not. We have a lot of talent. As management people it’s about creating an environment where that talent can express itself."
Asked about Ireland’s dip in form since their win 11 months ago, Hansen was quick to turn the table on the Irish media.
"Well, you probably seen them more often than me cause you live there so how do you think they are going?" he asked.
"Not great," we suggested.
"Well, they are in the quarter-finals so they are not going too bad," the coach ventured.
"They are the same as the other seven teams. What they have done prior to getting here doesn’t matter a hoot. It’s what happens on Saturday. That’s the exciting part about it, you control your own destiny."
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