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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 24 February 2021

'I can’t be telling you Irish too much!' - All Black 'pioneers' aim to go three-in-a-row

Steve Hansen said Ireland are World Cup favourites after going number one in the rankings.

FIRST THINGS FIRST, we must settle whether the All Blacks are favourites for this World Cup.

The defending back-to-back champions have arrived in Tokyo after spending their first few days in Japan in the city of Kashiwa, north-east of the capital. 

With their opening clash with the Springboks in Yokohama next Saturday now looming deliciously, it’s time for Steve Hansen and his men to get down to business.

Still, there were a few laughs at their press conference in the Conrad Hotel today, after Hansen was informed that Joe Schmidt had underlined the All Blacks’ favouritism after Ireland moved to number one in the world rankings upon beating Wales last weekend.

“You blokes are number one, so you gotta be the favourites,” said Hansen with a smile on his face.

japan-rugby-new-zealand The All Blacks are welcomed by locals in Kashiwa, Japan. Source: ç≤ì°óDé˜

“Look, whoever wants to be the favourites can be favourites. It’s been proven time and time again that that’s not what wins the World Cup. You gotta go earn the right to win it.”

While his comment might have been tongue in cheek, Hansen will be keeping a very close eye on Ireland’s performances in Pool A, well aware of the prospect of meeting them in the knock-out stages of the competition.

Indeed, asked about how his new playmaking combination of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett has been going for the All Blacks, Hansen was keeping his cards close to his chest.

“I can’t be telling you Irish too much! You are number one in the world already. You should be telling us.

“What do you think? Think it’s a good idea? Sorry to frustrate you but I can’t be telling you that.”

Hansen knows that better than most about earning the right to win a World Cup. Having suffered the heartbreak of 2007 and then helped the All Blacks to their 2011 title as an assistant coach, the had taken over as head coach before the 2015 success. 

The 60-year-old, who seems to enjoy media dealings, or at least makes them as fun as possible for himself, now has the opportunity to make history with the 2019 squad. Having become the first nation to go back-to-back, the All Blacks can now set a new benchmark with a three-peat.

“It’s extremely exciting,” said Hanse of the challenge. “To try and do things that have never been done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about. We came away from the home shores and settled in a country at the bottom of the earth.

“We had to find ways to live in isolation when life wasn’t like it is today.

“They become pioneers. That’s important in life and particularly in sport – you’ve got to strive to be leaders rather than followers.

steve-hansen Hansen and the All Blacks have plenty of know-how. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

“We have an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets; we can shy away from it or get really excited about it. We are really excited by it.”

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New Zealand’s know-how certainly seems an advantage, particularly with 12 of the squad from 2015 back again. The All Blacks have players who have done this before, whereas other teams – like Ireland – have no such experience to fall back on.

“It doesn’t make it any easier but it does give you confidence that you can do it,” said Hansen. “You’ve only got to look back at our time from 1987 to 2011, you know, it’s hard.

“We had a lot of pressure because we hadn’t done it. There are other teams in the tournament like that at the moment.

“I guess there is a small advantage in that we know how to win it but at the same time you’ve got to come out and earn it because it’s not going to be handed to you ‘cause you won the last two.”

There has been much made of the sense that other leading nations – Ireland, the Boks and England among them – have narrowed the gap to the All Blacks more than ever before in recent years, to which Hansen noted that “adversity makes you stronger.”

He stressed the importance of luck in winning a World Cup, while underlining that weather conditions in Japan – currently not as hot or humid as anticipated – will play a role.

“Refereeing consistency also matters,” he added.

But Hansen says the formula on the pitch remains essentially the same as ever. The pack of forwards must dominate and the out-half must guide his team sensibly. 

Barrett has been the All Blacks’ 10 for much of this cycle, although the Mo’unga experiment has provided them with a very different possibility, allowing Barrett to roam free from fullback. The Crusaders playmaker is also rated as a better goal-kicker.

japan-rugby-new-zealand Beauden Barrett snaps a selfie with some Japanese fans. Source: ç≤ì°óDé˜

Barrett started the Kiwis’ final warm-up game against Tonga at 10, with Ben Smith at 15 as Mo’unga sat the game out following a recent shoulder injury, so it remains to be seen how Hansen selects for the Springboks game.

“I don’t think anything’s changed really,” said Hansen of the formula for succes. “You’ve got to have a forward pack that can give you good ball, particularly go-forward ball, and halfbacks that will run the game. The rest of the people around them have just got to do their job.

“There is no doubt 10s are the main computers of the game. They drive it. All the good teams have good 10s. Look at all the teams that are coming here thinking they can win it, they got good 10s and a lot of them have good nines as well.”

And, after a quick reminder that the All Blacks will do their best to enjoy the culture in Japan, Hansen was on his way, destined for the team’s official welcome ceremony at the impressive Zojoji Temple.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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