'We'll see how they cope' - Steve Hansen challenges Ireland to live up to billing as the world's best side
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen this morning heaped praise on Ireland as he prepared to leave for Italy on the back of last night’s 16-9 defeat.
The All Blacks supremo confirmed that he has made a decision on his own future and will announce it once the tour to Europe is complete and he was upbeat on his team’s chances of improving between now and next year’s World Cup in Japan.
Hansen believes the gap between the hemispheres has never been so close and that was exemplified in a bruising, epic Test match at the Aviva Stadium.
And the former Wales coach took a moment to reflect on a “special” night.
“That’s the sad thing about being a coach, you’re in the coaches’ box so you don’t really hear anything,” he said when asked by a New Zealand journalist about the atmosphere at the stadium.
“But you could tell at the end of it what it meant to the Irish fans. Again, it’s a special moment once, you get over the fact that you’ve been beaten and (realise) you’ve been part of and you can reflect on that.
“It’s a hell of a city to come to. You don’t tour many places that are like this country and the people are great, and they’re getting a bit of success that they’ve longed for, for a long, long time, and they’ve taken the monkey off Munster’s back, haven’t they?
“They’re going to make more players now and more money. But just the joy that people got out of it was fantastic, and good on ‘em.”
Hansen had not had a chance to watch the game a second time, but having mulled over it overnight he said Ireland’s capacity to take their chance with Jacob Stockdale’s try was the difference.
"I haven't had another look at it yet but I've been thinking about it a lot,” he said.
“I think two good rugby teams played each other and one team took its opportunities. They had two opportunities, they took the one. We had four and took none.
"In a game like that, you've just got to be able to take them. I said last night that our discipline, particularly in the first half, was poor. So those things we can fix pretty quickly.
"If we're honest with ourselves too, we've tried to change how we want to play and we're still stuck between the old way and the new way. We haven't got it right yet. Did we think we were going to have it right by now? Probably not but we've got a bit of work to do over the summer.
"We're not going to fix it in a week, but we will fix it and when we get it right, we'll see some big improvements."
While Joe Schmidt will rightly get most of the credit for a second win over the All Blacks in three years, Hansen believes the staff behind the Ireland coach deserve a few plaudits.
And he said Ireland’s next challenge is to see how they’ll cope with the mantle of being the world’s top team – albeit with New Zealand holding on to the top place on the world rankings regardless of their loss.
"They're fitter, so whoever is doing their conditioning work (Jason Cowman) needs a pat on the back,” he said of the victors.
"Their defence is great. Both teams last night defended for long periods really, really well, so Andy (Farrell) is a great defence coach.
"Their scrum was good, it took us a while to get on top of that. So everybody in the team is doing their bit and Joe is obviously leading it very well. They've become a team that believes in themselves and are priding themselves on how they're playing.
"It's their turn at the moment so we'll see how they cope with that."