New Zealand coach Steve Hansen pays touching tribute to Anthony Foley
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen today paid tribute to the late Anthony Foley ahead of his team’s meeting with Ireland at Soldier Field on Saturday.
The New Zealander opened his team announcement press conference by congratulating the local baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series for the first time since 1908 before speaking about the Munster head coach who passed away 19 days ago.
Foley played against the All Blacks three times during his Ireland career and also faced Hansen when he was coach of Wales, while he said the New Zealanders who have played under Foley have spoken highly of his coaching.
“Before we start, there's a few things I'd like to say,” he said before taking questions at his side’s base in Chicago.
“One is, I'd like to congratulate the Chicago Cubs and all of their fans on a great victory. It was a special night for them last night, a special game actually.
“To be able to win something after 108 years of trying is something special, so we'd like to congratulate them.
“And on a more sombre note, we haven't had the opportunity and we have the Irish people here, we'd like to convey a message of sympathy and best wishes to the Foley family on the death of Anthony.
“It was a tragedy and one that was felt right throughout the world, our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
“I didn't know him that well but when you're in the game as long as we've been we certainly knew he was a good player. The All Blacks played against him on a couple of occasions.
“His coaching, he's coaching a Kiwi boy there and they're good mates and there's a lot of respect for him.
The Cubs end of a long wait is being seen as a pre-cursor for a first Ireland victory over New Zealand in some rather optimistic quarters, but Hansen isn’t buying the narrative.
“I listened to Joe (Maddon), the Chicago coach saying that curses and such things aren't what make sport, it's actually the process of getting across the line that makes it,” he said.
“So, I know that this Irish side is a good team, last time we played them they should have won and they've only gotten better since then.
“They'll be disappointed by what happened at the World Cup, but I think they had a lot of injuries unfortunately through the tournament and that put them under a lot of pressure.
“They probably didn't have the success they wanted, but they've continued on and beaten South Africa, had a great series about them.
“They'll be full noise, so we'll need to be full noise too.”
Hansen has selected Jerome Kaino in the second-row after losing his first choice pairing of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick to injury and reserve Luke Romano due to a family bereavement.
And he is confident the experienced flanker can deputise without any issues, while Scott Barrett – brother of the brilliant out-half Beauden – will make his debut off the bench.
“We've got Sam and Brodie sniped a couple of weeks ago, so they're not available and unfortunately Luke Romano's had a bereavement in his family and we send our best wishes to him and Hannah,” he said.
“Then we've got a young guy who has not played a Test match, he's only been in and around the team for four days, so we just felt it was better for him coming off the bench.
“JK covered lock for us at the World Cup and he covered lock for us during this season, so we're relatively comfortable that he'll be OK.
“He's a good scrummager and we've got quite a bit of variation in our lineout, so...”
Ireland came close to beating the world champions on their last meeting in 2013 and Hansen is preparing his troops for a tough game with a competitive aerial battle in the Windy City.
“We're expecting a physical encounter, one where they'll kick the ball a fair bit. Sexton and Murray are both key guys at driving them around the park and have real variation in their kicking game,” he said.
“Their chase of their kicks is good, they’ll compete in the air. They score a lot of points off their lineout, so they’ll see that as a part of their game they’ll want to get right, whether it be from driving mauls or scoring plays off it.
“They like to play little set-plays that they’ll have worked out, ‘we think they’re vulnerable here,’ so they’ll jack up a set play to exploit that. We’ve got to make sure we plug those holes.”