Gregor Paul in Dublin

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen pulled a major surprise on arrival in Dublin by announcing the test against Ireland this week will establish who is the best team in the world.

The All Blacks coach isn't prone to building the hype and with it heaping the external pressure on his players, so it was intriguing to hear him say this game was a "winner takes all" clash.

"It is one and two, so whoever wins will be the best side in the world regardless of rankings," said Hansen.

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"That is the mental state people take out of it so it is going to be a good one.

"We don't have to talk about it because there is enough experience in the group to know that this is the type of game it is. You don't get any bigger.

"We talked about last week being a big game ... 80,000 people in the stadium and I think England had been beaten once at home in the last 16 or 17 games.

"Ireland I don't think have been beaten too often either. And they are the number two side in the world and you don't get to play one and two that often when they are in two separate hemispheres so when they do come about they become pretty big games."

Rugby tests don't come any bigger than No 1 vs No 2, says Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty
Rugby tests don't come any bigger than No 1 vs No 2, says Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty

Why Hansen is willing to play this one up is anyone's guess but he'll most definitely have his reasons.

Part of the strategy may be to help ensure that his squad doesn't switch off after an epic encounter against England. The job is only half done and however hard things were in London, they could be harder again in Dublin.

Hansen needs to squeeze one last big effort out of key players such as Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Karl Tu'inukuafe and then he can let them have the summer off.

But they need to empty the tank one more time and so his decision to build up the game publicly could be a ploy to keep his squad on edge.

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There could also be a desire to put some pressure back on Ireland. The All Blacks live in a permanent world of pressure and often for them a test against Namibia is hard to differentiate from a World Cup knockout game or clash with the number two team in the world.

The pressure never eases for them while maybe Ireland don't have that same consistency of expectation and so not the same experience of dealing with pressure.

"I think the last few times we have played Ireland have been good test matches," says Hansen.

"I think we won in 2013 after the bell and then in Chicago, they won and we had to work really hard the next time.

"There is a fierce rivalry there and both packs will want to dominate and it is about getting all that stuff right.

"I think without being disrespectful to Argentina [who Ireland played on Saturday] I think we are a better team than them.

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"And I know Ireland will be a better team when they play us because everyone seems to find another 10 per cent when they play us because it is a good story if you can beat the All Blacks and everyone gets excited by that.

"So that will bring a lot more intensity to the game and I am picking it will be fast and the physical side of the game will be tough as will the mental side."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expecting a much improved Ireland to line up this weekend. Photo / Getty
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expecting a much improved Ireland to line up this weekend. Photo / Getty

And perhaps the knowledge Hansen is building the game is in acknowledgement of the giant strides the Irish have made.

For some time they were good enough to scare the All Blacks but not actually beat them. That all changed in Chicago two years ago when they recorded their first test win in history against the All Blacks.

In some ways, it has changed the complexion of the relationship – put New Zealand on notice that they are facing a team that now has the capacity to hang in for 80 minutes rather than 70.

Ireland have become a team that can finish what they start and have found the hard mental edge that perhaps was missing.

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"You go back through history and Ireland should have beaten us many times," says Hansen.

"They should have beaten us in Christchurch. Dan Carter dropped one of the ugliest goals of his career to get us up and I think there was a draw at one stage so they have been capable.

Joe Schmidt is a likely candidate to replace Hansen as All Blacks head coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Getty
Joe Schmidt is a likely candidate to replace Hansen as All Blacks head coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Getty

"And in modern times they run a really good programme and the central contracting allows them to. They have good depth and they have a really good clarity about how they want to play and while rugby is a really complicated game they seem to have made it really simple for themselves.

"Have we been scarred [by losing to Ireland]? I don't think so. We have been beaten by plenty of people and the ability to bounce back and deal with adversity is what makes you a good rugby side."