Thursday 23 November 2017

All Blacks 'are going into the Ireland game as the underdogs'

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen during squad training at Garda RFC in Westmanstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen during squad training at Garda RFC in Westmanstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, right, with Ryan Crotty during their team captain's run at Soldier Field in Chicago. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

Steve Hansen has insisted back-to-back world champions New Zealand are the underdogs for Saturday's rematch with Ireland in Dublin.

ll Blacks boss Hansen boasts a 92 per cent win record in his four years at the New Zealand helm, but believes Ireland's historic win in Chicago alters the complexion of Saturday's Aviva Stadium encounter.

Ireland claimed their first-ever win over New Zealand at Soldier Field on November 5, their 40-29 victory breaking a 111-year duck.

New Zealand will field fit-again stellar lock duo Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock for Saturday's Dublin Test, with Israel Dagg selected on the wing to counter Ireland's exacting aerial kicking threat.

"As expected, there is huge excitement and anticipation within our squad ahead of this weekend's Test against the Irish," said All Blacks head coach Hansen.

"While there was obvious disappointment at the loss in Chicago, disappointment doesn't win Test matches - it's about having great preparation and attitude, and delivering on the day.

"We know the challenge we face from Ireland will again be massive and we are going into the game as the underdogs.

"They'll be full of confidence and committed to delivering on their home patch.

"So we will have to take a massive step up, to get the performance we are looking for.

"It is a challenge that this team needs right now and how we respond will tell us a lot about ourselves. As I said, we are very much looking forward to Saturday."

Ireland can be sure to scoff at Hansen's claim that New Zealand are the underdogs, and the bookies would back that up too.

The average odds remain with Ireland placed at six to one for victory, with the All Blacks one to nine on to win.

Ireland ended New Zealand's record-breaking 18-match winning streak in Chicago, but boss Joe Schmidt has since insisted his side caught the All Blacks an an "opportune moment" due to injuries.

Retallick and Whitelock's restoration will boost the All Blacks' shape no end.

Retallick has beaten concussion while Whitelock has proved his fitness this week after ankle trouble.

Dagg's selection on the wing is entirely designed to prevent Ireland's hugely-impressive high-ball work, his comfort at full-back and under the garryowen a boost to the defensive qualities in New Zealand's back-three.

ALL BLACKS TEAM TO FACE IRELAND IN DUBLIN ON SATURDAY: B Smith (Highlanders), I Dagg (Crusaders), M Fekitoa (Highlanders), A Lienert-Brown (Chiefs), J Savea (Hurricanes), B Barrett (Hurricanes), A Smith (Highlanders), J Moody (Crusaders), D Coles (Hurricanes), O Franks (Crusaders), B Retallick (Chiefs), S Whitelock (Crusaders), L Squire (Highlanders), S Cane (Chiefs), K Read (Crusaders, capt). Replacements: C Taylor (Crusaders), W Crockett (Crusaders), C Faumuina (Blues), S Barrett (Crusaders), A Savea (Hurricanes), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), A Cruden (Chiefs), W Naholo (Highlanders).

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