No. 1 tag a joke: Ireland coach

Schmidt laughs off NZ coach's claim that the Irish are favourites for next Rugby World Cup

DUBLIN • New Zealand coach Steve Hansen's claim that Ireland are now the No. 1 team in the world and favourites for next September's Rugby World Cup has been dismissed as "banter" by the Six Nations champions' boss Joe Schmidt.

Hansen, who is seeking a second successive World Cup trophy in Japan, made that assessment after the Irish had beaten his All Blacks side 16-9 for their first home win over them on Saturday.

"I said at the beginning of the week that it is the two best sides in the world playing each other," Hansen said. "As of now, they are the No. 1 team in the world."

Although his Ireland counterpart laughed off his assertion, Schmidt's second-ranked team are now serious contenders to win their maiden World Cup, having failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals since its inception in 1987.

Despite having none of Hansen's claims, Schmidt lauded his defence for becoming the first national team to keep the All Blacks try-less since France in 1995 and, in the process, recording Ireland's second win over the world champions in four meetings.

"I have huge respect for Steve and his team so to be favourites when they have been world No. 1 for nine years isn't likely," Schmidt told reporters. "We are at home, they are at the end of a long series of games travelling round the world.

"We had the fantastic crowd right behind us so there were lots of things stacked in our favour."

Jacob Stockdale jumping for the ball with All Blacks' wing Ben Smith. Ireland beat the world champions for the first time at home on Saturday, by 16-9, with Stockdale scoring the decisive try.
Jacob Stockdale jumping for the ball with All Blacks' wing Ben Smith. Ireland beat the world champions for the first time at home on Saturday, by 16-9, with Stockdale scoring the decisive try. PHOTO: REUTERS

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    The All Blacks recorded zero tries in their defeat, the first time since 1995.

But Hansen, who had a costly night as he handed over some money before the match to Schmidt for four tickets, insisted the "gutted" All Blacks were no longer the front runners before conceding there were caveats.

"This (defeat) will be very useful as this team hasn't suffered many over the past three years," he said.

"Ireland are favourites, but there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before it (the Rugby World Cup) starts."

"This is November so between now and then, there can be injuries and new coaches. What we do know is Ireland will go there reasonably confident."

But Schmidt, who has revolutionised Irish rugby since taking over in 2013 with three Six Nations titles, including the Grand Slam earlier this year, is too canny an individual to get carried away.

"It is a nebulous thing for us, all we can control is our performance," he added. "Others can postulate who is where and who is favourite.

"The players live in a bit of a bubble at this time. Really, as I said, being called 'favourites', what do you tangibly gain from that?"

The New Zealand-born 53-year-old, who has been touted as a future All Blacks coach, is due to announce by the end of the month whether he will stay on as Ireland boss with his contract set to end after the World Cup.

At Twickenham, Eddie Jones hailed his team for "playing like England" after coming from behind to beat Japan 35-15.

"Our second-half response (with three tries) was excellent," said the Australian coach of the England team, who complete their November programme at home to Australia on Saturday.

Jones also praised Japan, who are still among the sport's tier-two nations, for the "fantastic test" they posed to his side. "They are a proper rugby country and I'm really pleased for them," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2018, with the headline 'No. 1 tag a joke: Ireland coach'. Print Edition | Subscribe