Ireland’s underwhelming Guinness Six Nations campaign is putting a spring in the step of the watching Steve Hansen, as he explained in an interview with the New Zealand Herald.
The All Blacks coach, outfoxed by Joe Schmidt when the Irish beat New Zealand in Dublin in November, has been keeping a close eye on the 2019 championship in Europe and has been enthused by Ireland’s run of off-colour performances.
The defending Six Nations champions, who followed 2018’s Grand Slam with a series win in Australia and then the scalp of the All Blacks, lost to England on the opening day and have since struggled to impress in dour wins over Scotland Italy.
“I said it at the time when we played Ireland that whoever won that game was going to be viewed as the No1 team in the world and everyone is going to chase them,” Hansen said.
“For us that’s something we’ve been used to. We’ve been ranked the No1 team for 112 months now I think but people have seen Ireland as the top dog after they beat us, and that put a massive amount of expectation on the players and coaches.
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“Instead of being the hunters they are the hunted and it’s different. It’s different when you’re sitting at the top of the tree. It’s a different experience. Not many teams cope with it that well.”
After winning in Dublin, England were touted as the team to go through the tournament unbeaten. However, they were beaten by Wales in round three and it’s Warren Gatland’s team who will now feel the pressure as they go to Scotland on Saturday as table-toppers chasing a first Grand Slam since 2012.
We're excited to be back in action this week!
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 4, 2019
“They’re all capable of knocking off a big team,” Hansen said. “We’ve seen that with Ireland. They were favourites going into the tournament and they’ve been beaten by England. Then all of a sudden England were favourites to win the tournament, now they’ve been beaten.
“France should’ve beaten Wales in the first game so it’s a pretty even contest all round. You’ve got to turn up and play well if you want to be in it.
“It’s different to the Super competition; it’s different to Sanzaar test matches but it’s still really good rugby. There’s been some brutal tests. All of the Home Nations, plus France, and there’s been some improvement in Italy too.”
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