Joe Schmidt has transformed Ireland's approach to facing the All Blacks

‘I think it provokes excitement, it provokes a little bit of anxiety.’

JOE SCHMIDT’S IRELAND are staying in Disneyland this week in Tokyo, but it wouldn’t quite be a fairytale if they beat the All Blacks on Saturday in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Under Schmidt, ferociously competing with the Kiwis has been the order of the day and beating them has taken on a completely new complexion with Ireland’s first-ever and second-ever wins over New Zealand happening under his watch.

The infamously narrow defeat to the Kiwis in 2013 set out Schmidt’s stall when it came to facing his native land – no longer were Ireland going to be cowed by taking on the best in the world.

joe-schmidt Schmidt's Ireland have enjoyed facing the All Blacks. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The memory of a 60-0 hammering at New Zealand’s hands has faded as Ireland have proved to be a team that the All Blacks don’t like playing.

So ignore their claims that they were keen to avoid Japan in the World Cup quarter-final and their argument that two defeats in their last three games against Ireland are irrelevant. 

Ireland under Schmidt have had the measure of the All Blacks and completely moved past the inferiority complex when facing the Kiwis.

“I wasn’t involved in 2013 but they got so close and unfortunately came off second best late in the game but I think the group as a whole has grown the past couple of years,” said assistant coach Simon Easterby.

“I think the ability to beat teams on our day has gathered pace over the last few years.

“As a team, we were often gallant losers in my time as a player, we pushed teams close every now and then. We had the odd maybe two or three or four-game winning streak against the top sides and then maybe we’d fall over.

“But I think the consistency that Joe has brought over the last five or six seasons and the confidence he has brought not just to beat the likes of the All Blacks but to go to South Africa, to go to Australia and win a series, to win championships, to win a Grand Slam, the confidence that the group has with the game plan, the confidence that they have in Andy [Farrell]’s defence, I think there is a combination of different things that have come together.

“A lot of them have all come together at the same time, and sometimes when you don’t quite get everything right then sometimes we’re not good enough. I think we’ve seen that as well. So we have to be at our best or close to our best on Saturday and if we are then we’ll push them all the way.

rhys-ruddock-and-peter-omahony Ireland training in Tokyo yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I think they know that, but we also have to be wary of the threats that they bring, and Joe is across all of that detail, across our mindset and our understanding of what it takes to beat a team like the All Blacks and I think that filters through the group as we go through the week and I think the confidence that we gain from that has been shown in a couple of performances that we’ve had against them.”

The quiet sense of confidence within the Ireland squad is palpable around their team hotel at Disneyland Tokyo this week.

There’s no bravado or cockiness, of course, but there appears to be a genuine belief that Schmidt’s squad are in a perfect place to fire their best shot on Saturday.

While Bundee Aki will be missing due to his suspension, the rest of Schmidt’s squad appears to be fit and healthy for what should be a genuinely special World Cup encounter at Tokyo Stadium.

“What was it, ’95 that Ireland last played the All Blacks in a World Cup and Gary Halpin scored, didn’t he?” said Easterby.

“If we came through the group we knew that we knew the potential of either playing the All Blacks or the Springboks or Italy but they obviously weren’t given that opportunity because of the unfortunate events with the typhoon.

“But we knew that the All Blacks was potentially on the horizon and they have been the number one side, maybe not all by name but certainly over the last few seasons they have been the consistently the team to beat.

“Just because we’ve beaten them on a couple of occasions, you know that you’re always in a hell of a game and to beat them you’ve got to be at your best.

“I think that provokes excitement, it provokes a little bit of anxiety because you know you have to be at your best, you have to get nearly everything right.

“That drives this group, they’re driven by a number of things but the challenge and the demands they put on themselves shows that we can raise our game for the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, England in Twickenham, two Test wins in Australia, those type of challenges have often been met by this team and this Saturday is no different.”

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