(Reuters) – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes Saturday’s eagerly anticipated showdown between New Zealand and Ireland in Dublin will lead to a simple outcome, with the winning side able to claim bragging rights as the best team in world rugby.
The hype surrounding the clash between Hansen’s World Cup winners and Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations champions has been growing steadily for the past 12 months as the consistent Irish have risen to number two in the global rankings.
“It is one and two, so whoever wins will be the best side in the world regardless of rankings,” Hansen told reporters in Dublin.
“They are the number two side in the world and you don’t get to play one and two that often when they are in two separate hemispheres, so when they do come about, they become pretty big games.
“That is the mental state people take out of it so it is going to be a good one.”
The rivalry between the sides has intensified in recent years with Schmidt’s side no longer considered plucky underdogs as he has helped shape them into a northern hemisphere powerhouse in the last half a decade.
The All Blacks needed a converted try in injury time to claim a 24-22 triumph in Dublin five years ago, before Ireland ended a 111-year losing streak to New Zealand in 2016 when they ran in five tries to secure a remarkable 40-29 win in Chicago.
That triumph ended an 18-match winning streak for the All Blacks, who wasted little time gaining revenge when the Kieran Read-led side won a rematch 21-9 two weeks later in Dublin.
“I think the last few times we have played Ireland have been good test matches,” Hansen added.
“I think we won in 2013 after the bell and then in Chicago, they won, and we had to work really hard the next time.”
The All Blacks may have won the last meeting, but it came with the British and Irish media accusing the world champions of pushing the boundaries of physicality as they set out to gain “brutal revenge” for the Chicago upset.
Hansen, however, has steadfastly refuted that version of events regarding the 2016 match and is braced for another intense encounter on Saturday.
“There is a fierce rivalry there and both packs will want to dominate,” he said.
“Everyone seems to find another 10 percent when they play us because it is a good story if you can beat the All Blacks and everyone gets excited by that.
“So that will bring a lot more intensity to the game and I am picking it will be fast and the physical side of the game will be tough as will the mental side.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by xxxxxxx)