By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – New Zealand have lost twice to Ireland in their last three meetings but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says all form goes out the window ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Tokyo.
Ireland have fashioned an impressive record under New Zealander Joe Schmidt in the last six years, with the side claiming their first ever win against the All Blacks on Nov. 5 2016 in Chicago, a victory that ended a 111-year wait.
While New Zealand got a measure of revenge two weeks later, beating the Irish 21-9 on home soil, Schmidt’s side scored another win over the world champions last year in Dublin.
The All Blacks’ recent record against the Irish would have been even worse had they not pulled off ‘The Great Escape’ in 2013 when Ryan Crotty’s try and Aaron Cruden’s conversion salvaged a 24-22 win deep in injury time.
Hansen, who was noticeably less relaxed than he had been during the pool phase in Japan, was putting little stock in recent results having any influence on Saturday’s game, however.
“I think they have brought out the best in us for a long, long time,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t know how many games we have played but 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.”
Hansen expected Ireland to play to their strengths — controlling the ball and using scrumhalf Conor Murray to put pressure on the All Blacks’ back three with his tactical kicking.
Flyhalf Johnny Sexton, World Player of the Year in 2018, would also be key for the Irish to keep their pack going forward, he added.
“Why would they want to change? That’s been very successful for (them),” Hansen said. “There won’t be any complacency in our camp.”
Hansen is stepping down at the end of the World Cup after 16 years with the team as an assistant and head coach. He bristled when asked if that was a factor in his thinking ahead of the quarter-finals.
“I’m not worried about my All Blacks career,” he said. “I’m more concerned about that we earn the right to come back on Monday.
“I’m not even thinking about three (knockout games). We don’t know if we’re going to play three. We know that we are only going to play one and that’s all we’re thinking of.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)