With one line, one wee jibe, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen could perhaps sow seeds of doubt for Irish counterpart Joe Schmidt.

Hansen is the master of controlling the message. As he stepped up for an earlier than usual media appearance to set the tone for the All Blacks' anticipated quarter-final against Ireland this Saturday, Hansen delivered a tactical utterance designed to throw Ireland off their step.

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Ireland are one of the more conservative teams in world rugby – their game is based around ball retention, dominating collisions, defensive line speed and controlling territory.

Their one major point of difference, their trump card that creates uncertainty, are Schmidt's set plays.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen during his press conference in Tokyo. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen during his press conference in Tokyo. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Last year in Dublin, Schmidt watched one of these trick moves play out to perfection.

From the lineout Ireland worked a switch play back to the short-side where they caught the All Blacks napping. Jacob Stockdale had room to move and his perfectly-executed chip and chase try set Ireland on course for their first home victory over the All Blacks.

Afterwards, Schmidt explained he had pinched the move from the Highlanders and also confessed how much time he spent watching the Mitre 10 Cup for ideas.

Clearly, Schmidt had identified the All Blacks' short side defence from a lineout as an area of weakness.

ANZ Sports Scene: Hansen sets the tone ahead of quarter-final against Ireland. Video / Mark Mitchell / All Blacks

Ireland picked the opportune time to pull off the move, and Stockdale was good enough to do the rest.

This is but one example of Schmidt's trick plays. Ireland also use Johnny Sexton to target vulnerable ruck defenders by flicking variations of inside balls to his wingers, hoping the pace will catch forwards on their heels.

Planning for these specifically-designed Schmidt moves in Tokyo this weekend is difficult but the All Blacks are on high alert.

Asked how you counter the unknown, Hansen grabbed his chance to turn the tables and warn Schmidt that his meticulous attention to detail could also backfire.


"We've got weaknesses like everybody else so you've got to have a look at your own weakness as much as anyone else," Hansen said.

"You know Joe does a lot of study so that can be a strength and a weakness. We might be able to set him up."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen during his press conference in Tokyo. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen during his press conference in Tokyo. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Such a comment is not a throwaway line. Hansen is smarter than that. He knows psychological advantages can be gained from stirring the pot occasionally. Even if this comment creates half a per cent of doubt, it serves its purpose.

All Blacks midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown, expected to start inside Jack Goodhue against Ireland, was another to note the need to be aware for Ireland's set moves.

"They're a quality side, they're well coached, I'm sure they'll have plenty of specials up their sleeve and opportunities that they've seen," Lienert-Brown said. "It's always been tough against them but as a team we're in a good place but we're going to have to be right near our best this weekend."

As he has done previously, Hansen challenged Ireland to cope with the pressure of the knockout arena, having never made it beyond the quarter-finals previously.

"I particularly enjoy what we're going into," he said. "It's a big pressure moment and the team that copes with that the best is probably going to come out on top."