Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt believes New Zealand will be “well aware” of how his side play when the teams meet in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Saturday.
Steve Hansen will be well accustomed to Ireland’s current style of play having faced off against Schmidt’s side on three occasions since 2016, losing twice, in Chicago in 2016 and last year in Dublin.
Schmidt has included 12 of the starters from the memorable 16-9 win in November in his team for Saturday’s quarter-final showdown in Toyko while Conor Murray, Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw also feature this time around.
The New Zealand native is aware that Ireland are no longer a surprise package to the All Blacks given their recent victories.
“We’re certainly not going to sneak up on them any more, we’re not going to surprise them. They are well aware of how we play and what they are going to do to combat that.
“I wouldn’t be a great believer in that you learn more from your losses – you learn more from every experience. There are so many variables that go into a result in a test match that I learn from every win, loss or draw that we have.
“So I’ve got huge respect for Steve Hansen, Ian Foster (New Zealand assistant coach), the full coaching staff. Mike Cron (New Zealand forwards coach) has been there a long time, seen a lot of big games, he’s creative around the lineout as well as the scrum and how to manipulate opponents. So there’s a host of challenges for us.
“Scott McLeod (New Zealand defence coach) spent three days in our camp many moons ago, so he’ll be very aware of how we function – and he’s now looking at how they are going to function against us.
“Those are the tight circles rugby works in. Everybody knows everybody else pretty well, and so I’ve no doubt they’ve got a few things cooked up that we haven’t seen before that we’re going to find really challenging.”
Ireland have yet to return to their form of 2018 and while New Zealand are favourites to return to the semi-finals, having beaten the All Blacks before will give Ireland a major confidence boost.
However, Schmidt is wary that his side could play their best rugby and still fail to progress past the quarter-final stage.
“The unfortunate thing about any 23 that comes up against the All Blacks is that they can play very well and still not get the result. That’s the quality that the All Blacks have – that’s the athletes that they possess.
“But one of the things is that they have connected up very well. They have had some pretty successful experiences together. There are a number of players within that side who have contributed to a fair bit of history for us.
“Obviously, the first win over the All Blacks, the first time we won at home to the All Blacks, but a few other milestones along the way. A lot of those players that are selected were in Australia last summer, were in South Africa the summer before when we won in Cape Town.
“So the accumulation of those experiences together hopefully builds a bit of confidence – because you need to have some belief. You can’t go out against an All Blacks side and accept that you’re second fiddle. You’ve got to go out and put your best foot forward and we hope that this 23 will be committed to doing that.”
Schmidt has made three changes from the team that comprehensively beat Samoa in their final pool game last week. Garry Ringrose returns to the side in place of the suspended Bundee Aki, the experienced Rob Kearney replaces Jordan Larmour at full-back and Peter O’Mahony is named in the back row with Tadhg Beirne dropping to the bench.
He highlights O’Mahony’s ‘big moment’ plays as the reason for his inclusion in what could be Schmidt’s final game as Ireland head coach.
“He brings leadership and experience, he’s a very effective lineout operator for us.
“There are things he can add for us that we think will be really important. He saved our bacon the last time we played the All Blacks, with an exceptional turn and chase and the long arms that he reached out just to pluck the ball in front of Ben Smith – who really would have scored for certain if Pete hadn’t got back and saved that.
“I think he won two balls on the ground in that game for us as well, and that’s important. So he has been a bit of a big moments player for us. Maybe not as many moments – but the big moments, they count.”