Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: Steve Hansen tells All Blacks: Forget those Ireland defeats

New Zealand confident ahead of Rugby World Cup quarter-final despite Irish winning two of the last three games against reigning champions

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is relishing the Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Ireland on Saturday. Getty
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is relishing the Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Ireland on Saturday. Getty

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen claims the recent matches between Ireland and New Zealand will be irrelevant when the teams meet in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

In one of the greatest results in their history, Ireland beat the All Blacks 40-29 on neutral territory in Chicago in 2016, as well as recording their first home win against New Zealand last year.

But Hansen said past form would count for nothing in Tokyo. He said: "A lot of people are getting caught up in the past. It's about what's happening on Saturday that's going to matter. Anything that's happened prior to that is irrelevant."

He acknowledged last year's 16-9 defeat in Dublin was a "titanic struggle" and claimed most teams raise their game "10 per cent" when they play the All Blacks.

"Big difference here is it's a do-or-die game for both teams," added Hansen, whose All Blacks will be huge favourites against an Ireland side that has failed to impress since their opening 27-3 win against Scotland.

"Both teams are in good nick, fresh, and excited. We're looking forward to the challenge."

Flanker Sam Cane said previous encounters between the two sides had been "massive arm-wrestles" and "hugely physical". But he believes: "This is a Rugby World Cup play-off game, the past doesn't really count for anything."

Hansen dismissed fears the All Blacks could be "undercooked" coming into the game, nearly a month after their last serious test - a 23-13 win over South Africa.

"Having a week off is not a bad thing. We're quite excited by that fact," said Hansen, who revealed New Zealand had been training at close to the intensity of a Test match. "We don't feel we've lost any opportunity to get ourselves where we need to be.".

Hansen said he did not expect Ireland to change their way of playing, based around a solid kicking game from their fly-half Johnny Sexton, the reigning World Player of the Year, and scrum-half Conor Murray.

"They're pretty set on 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? It's been pretty successful for them."

Sexton has questioned the "strange" negativity around Ireland's World Cup campaign, insisting Joe Schmidt's men are ready to peak for the knockout stages.

Leinster star Sexton hopes Ireland have already shaken their typical World Cup quarter-final performance "out of our system" with the surprise 19-12 group loss to Japan.

"We've been building pretty well apart from that poor 60 minutes against Japan; everything else has pretty much gone to plan," said Sexton.

"There's been some negativity around us and we'd feel that's been pretty strange. But we're really confident in how we're building. We'd like to be playing a bit better in some regards at times, but hopefully we can put that performance out there on Saturday.

"We're very self-critical in terms of our performances and obviously after the Japan game we would have liked to have done things differently. But we knew how good a team Japan were, so we always knew that would happen if we didn't play well, and it did happen."

Ireland's failure to launch past a World Cup quarter-final has become a millstone around the team's neck. Now Kiwi coach Schmidt has the chance for another history-making achievement, should he guide them past his homeland and into a maiden World Cup semi-final.

Sexton added: "We're building nicely, we haven't hit our best performance yet and we need to get close to that to get the right result. It makes a big difference having everyone fit, even just for the quality of training."

Updated: October 14, 2019 11:14 AM

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