Rugby World Cup 2019

Rugby: Not about to lose the head (coaches)

World No. 4 Ireland, who topped the world rankings entering the Rugby World Cup, will attempt to upset two-time defending champions New Zealand. It would be their third win in four matches against the All Blacks.
World No. 4 Ireland, who topped the world rankings entering the Rugby World Cup, will attempt to upset two-time defending champions New Zealand. It would be their third win in four matches against the All Blacks. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kiwis, NZ's Hansen and Ireland's Schmidt, not ready to step down in their last tourney

TOKYO • New Zealand's Steve Hansen was not prepared to think about it and Ireland's Joe Schmidt did not address it.

Yet, with both head coaches due to step down after the Rugby World Cup in Japan, today's quarter-final between their sides will mark the end of an era for one of them.

"Come the final whistle, one (team) will go right and one will go left," Hansen said. "One of us will be going home. But that's just the cold, hard facts about the World Cup."

He has not confirmed his post-World Cup plans but New Zealand media reported he was moving to a Japanese club as director of rugby.

The 60-year-old, who could cement his legacy as one of the greatest coaches by guiding the team to a third straight world title, has refused even to think about what it might mean if his side lose today.

"You haven't got any room to get gaga emotional. You're here to do a job," he said. "The team is bigger than the individual, always has been, always will be.

"The jersey and legacy of the jersey demands you to be there giving 100 per cent of what you have.

NOT STRAIGHTFORWARD

The Irish are a really good side. Perhaps they haven't played to their potential through this World Cup but, in a World Cup game, it's whoever turns up on the day.

KIERAN READ , New Zealand captain, is wary of the quality of Ireland.

"So you don't have time to think about yourself. When the tournament is over, that's when you step back and have a reflection and think about what's next."

Schmidt was touted as a successor to his fellow Kiwi Hansen but said he was not planning on coaching at all next year in order to spend more time with his family.

The 54-year-old barely touched on the ramifications of an Ireland loss today, and instead preferred to focus on the good relationship he had with his compatriots.

"They're good guys to have a drink with afterwards," he said.

The All Blacks are ready to seize the slightest opportunity against a team who have beaten them twice in their last three meetings.

Captain Kieran Read is not unduly worried by the lack of high-quality opposition since the 23-13 opening win over South Africa. They had not played since an academic run-out against Namibia on Oct 6, with their final pool match against Italy cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis.

"We've trained as well as we can and we're in a great position to go out there and perform on the field," said the talismanic No. 8, who will retire from the international scene after the World Cup.

"We know how close the games have been over the last few years."

Cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams will start on the bench and fellow centre Ryan Crotty misses out altogether as Hansen named in-form Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue in midfield. Two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett starts at full-back.

Ireland, who came into the tournament ranked top but have since dropped to No. 4, have been a mixed bag in Japan. They were beaten by the hosts before recovering to finish as Pool A runners-up.

Their best foot belongs to inside backs Conor Murray and reigning World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, whose tactical kicking will be crucial in turning New Zealand around and putting pressure on their back three. Their ability to control possession also appears to confuse the All Blacks and creates frustration.

Robbie Henshaw comes in at inside centre to replace the suspended Bundee Aki, but Schmidt has selected his strongest possible side, with seven of the forwards that dominated the All Blacks last November in the starting team.

Veteran hooker Rory Best will skipper the team.

"You know the Irish are a really good side," Read added. "Perhaps they haven't played to their potential through this World Cup but, in a World Cup game, it's whoever turns up on the day."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2019, with the headline 'Not about to lose the head (coaches)'. Print Edition | Subscribe