All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has kicked off the vocal battle between New Zealand and Ireland ahead of their highly-anticipated Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday.
The sides meet in Toyko Stadium (KO 11:15 [UK & IRE] / 19:15 [local]) in the second of the day’s games following the meeting of England and Australia in Oita.
Ireland have an advantage in the sides recent clashes since 2016 following their win in Chicago and the famous victory in Dublin last November, however, their form has dipped considerably since the 16-9 win.
Saturday’s meeting will signal the final game for either coach with Joe Schmidt and Steve Hansen having already confirmed their respective departures following the tournament.
Many have suggested that the Ireland coach will have some tricks up his sleeve for what could be his last game in charge but Hansen isn’t worried about what his counterpart will bring to the table.
“We’ve got weaknesses like everybody else, so you’ve got to look at your own weaknesses as much as anybody else’s.
“You know that Joe does a lot of studies, so that can be a strength and a weakness.
“I might be able to set him up.”
Hansen admits that there won’t be any complacency in his camp given their recent “loss-win-loss” record against the Irish, however, he is also adamant that previous results will count for nothing this weekend.
“I think there’s a lot of respect from both sides. We played them in November and it was a titanic struggle and on the day they were the better side. Most teams we play get up 10 per cent better than they normally do and they’re no different.
“The big difference here is it’s a do or die game for both teams. Both teams are in good nick – fresh, excited and, I can only speak on behalf of ourselves, we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
“They have brought out the best in us for a long, long time. I don’t know how many games we have played and we enjoy playing them and that hasn’t changed because they have beaten us a couple of times.
“A lot of people are going to be talking about the past but it’s what happens on Saturday that counts. What happened prior to that is irrelevant.”
Ireland endured a mixed run throughout their pool games, losing their second game to Japan before an unconvincing bonus-point win over Russia before they ultimately finished as runners-up in the group behind the host nation.
Many have suggested that Ireland need to move away from their ‘pick and go’ style of play and adapt more expansive rugby, small glimpses of which were on show against Samoa in their final pool game.
Hansen expects Ireland to stick with their tried and tested method as they must play to their strengths.
“They’re pretty set on how they play just like we are. They play to their strengths.
“Conor Murray does a lot of kicking and they use Sexton to drive them around the park and their big forwards to carry and why would they want to change? That’s been very successful for them.”