Hansen happy to stir things up but Schmidt's not biting
‘He’s pretty good, Joe, at finding a trick or two, so we’ll be expecting one or two coming our way on Saturday’
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen: “He’s pretty good, Joe, at finding a trick or two, so we’ll be expecting one or two coming our way on Saturday.” Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images
Hansen toys with the media. This week alone, he used the platform to poke holes in the Irish psyche. If Conor Murray was a kiwi he’d shake off injury and play, stated the 59-year-old on Sunday night.
Before lunch on Monday Schmidt ruled Murray out of the November series via an unambiguous press release.
Hansen, like his players, targets opposition strengths, so Johnny Sexton’s methods of communication were inevitably highlighted on Thursday.
“Johnny’s very competitive,” began Hansen from New Zealand’s Blanchardstown base. “Likes to get what he wants. Likes to drive the team the way he wants to and the way Joe wants him to drive it. You got to admire what he has done. He’s going to be a big man for them tomorrow.”
Spin down the N4 to Carton House, relay these words to the Ireland coach, and the difference in character is revealed.
“Personally, it’s not something I’d engage in,” Schmidt replied. “I don’t know if it is gamesmanship, I haven’t seen it, what he said about Johnny today . . .”
Hansen said “he likes to get what he wants” on the pitch.
“I think all players like to get what they want on the pitch and some are maybe a little more vocal than others,” said Schmidt. “The engagement from All Blacks with the referee last weekend was no different to other teams.”
The 53-year-old went on to label Hansen’s 14 years on the All Blacks coaching ticket, six years of it as the head coach, as “incredibly difficult to do”, with a particular nod to keeping them at number one in the world while transitioning from the Richie McCaw and Dan Carter era.
“I would have liked to have gone along to Steve’s meetings and training this week, but I wasn’t invited, so I’m going to just have to make a presumption that it would have been pure quality.”
Hansen’s most interesting line on Thursday was a glance back to tricky days as Wales coach (2002-04) when the lack of world-class players in every position contributed to an 11-game losing streak. The wonder is how Ireland under Schmidt have got so close to New Zealand.
Ireland are probably the team in World Rugby that hang on to the ball the most
“Look, you’ve got to admire what [Ireland] are doing. Each coach has got to coach the group of athletes the way that best suits them. That was something I found out when I was in Wales. You might have an idea of how you want to play, but if you don’t have the athletes that can do that, you have to rejig your thought process.”
Harsh but true. Devin Toner’s 6ft 11in frame is a rarity in Irish life, while towering New Zealand locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock twist and turn like Ireland’s most agile backs. Schmidt was quick to notice this island doesn’t breed humans like his homeland, so the basics get drilled into a system (hence the young Ireland players are nicknamed “JoeBots”).
“They’re probably the team in World Rugby that hang on to the ball the most,” said Hansen. “When they don’t get what they want with that they’ll take to the air and they’ve got a good kicking game.
‘Trick or two’
“You’ve got to admire all of that, it’s winning and they’ll punish you. They’ll find a weakness. He’s pretty good, Joe, at finding a trick or two, so we’ll be expecting one or two coming our way on Saturday.”
The solution sounds so obvious.
“You hang on to it yourself, have a crack at them at source so set piece is going to be vital. Do a wee bit of suffocating ourselves.”
Does this indicate a world of pain is coming for the obvious Irish weakness caused by Murray’s unavailability?
“We never go out to target anybody,” Hansen shot back. “If you’re going to target anyone you want to target the big boys, because they’re the boys that lead you around the park. So, if you can put those kind of guys in the red, then your team struggles more.”
When the idea of losing is mentioned, of course, he flipped it back on Ireland.
“That’s one of the conundrums when you are winning, how do you keep winning? Ireland are trying to master that themselves, it’s a difficult thing to do.”