Past matches between Ireland and New Zealand will be irrelevant when the two teams take the pitch in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, according to All Black coach Steve Hansen.
In one of the greatest results in their history, Ireland beat the All Blacks on neutral territory in Chicago in 2016, as well as recording their first home win against New Zealand last year.
But coach Steve Hansen said past form would count for nothing in Tokyo on Saturday.
“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,” Hansen told reporters.
He said the match in Dublin was a “titanic struggle” and acknowledged that most teams raise their game “10%” when they play the All Blacks – the Irish being no different in this respect.
“Big difference here is it’s a do-or-die game for both teams,” noted Hansen, whose All Blacks will be huge favorites going into the match 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,” said the coach, who will be facing countryman Joe Schmidt in the opposing camp.
All Black flanker Sam Cane said previous encounters between the two sides had been “massive arm-wrestles” and “hugely physical,” but was also only looking ahead to Saturday’s clash.
“This is a Rugby World Cup play-off game, the past doesn’t really count for anything,” said Cane.
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 Rugby Championship rivals South Africa.
“Having a week off is not a bad thing. We’re quite excited by that fact,” said Hansen, who added the All Blacks had trained at close to the intensity of a Test match on Friday.
“We don’t feel we’ve lost any opportunity to get ourselves where we need to be,” he said.
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,” noted Hansen.
But he cautioned that while Sexton was an important cog in the Ireland machine, “they are more than a one-man team.”
“I think they brought out the best in us for a long, long time,” added Hansen, looking ahead to what promises to be a thriller in Tokyo Stadium.
“That hasn’t changed just because they’ve beaten us a couple of times.”