Joe Schmidt has admitted that as much as his Ireland team will draw confidence from recent victories over the All Blacks they still "fear" the world champions. Ireland's head coach added that even if they played their best in Saturday's World Cup quarter-final clash in Tokyo they might still lose.

As rallying cries go, it felt a little subdued two days out from arguably the biggest match in Ireland's history. But Schmidt's respectful rhetoric was obviously strategic. The Kiwi, who named a tried-and-trusted team on Thursday for the game at Ajinomoto Stadium, clearly decided it was wiser not to poke the bear ahead of such a big game.

"I think most coaches would say transition," Schmidt replied when asked what it was about the All Blacks that made them so dangerous. "If you turn ball over to them they're ferociously dangerous. Their speed to transition from defence to attack is something that everybody fears about the All Blacks.

"They are so quick to make the most of it. They have athletes who have skills, who have speed and they have an innate attacking mentality. They are almost wired for it."


Schmidt added: "The unfortunate thing about any 23 that comes up against the All Blacks is that they can play very well and still not get the result. That's the quality that the All Blacks have, that's the athletes that they possess."

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. Photo / Photosport
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. Photo / Photosport

Schmidt has named his most experienced possible line-up for the match, resisting the urge to spring any Henry Slade-style last-minute surprises. The forwards are as expected with Peter O'Mahony retaining the No 6 shirt despite, by his standards, some pretty indifferent form. In the backs, Bundee Aki's suspension means Schmidt has had to make a change, although Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose might well have been his first-choice pairing anyway.

Schmidt conceded that his selection would not pose many surprises for New Zealand. But he said that the players' familiarity with one another would stand them in good stead.

"We're certainly not going to sneak up on [New Zealand] any more," Schmidt said. "I think they are well aware of how we play and what they are going to do to combat that.

"But [this group] have had some pretty successful experiences together. Obviously, the first win over the All Blacks [in Chicago in 2016], the first time we won at home to the All Blacks… but a few other milestones along the way.

"So the accumulation of those experiences together hopefully builds a bit of confidence because you need to have some belief. You can't go out against an All Blacks side and accept that you're second fiddle. You've got to go out and put your best foot forward and we hope that this 23 will be committed to doing that."

Schmidt's respectful tone was mirrored by New Zealand's head coach Steve Hansen, who described Ireland as "tenacious" and a team who were "pretty good at keeping the ball".

Hansen has been rather bolder with his team selection than Schmidt, persisting with the exciting Richie Mo'unga-Beauden Barrett axis at 10 and 15, and leaving hugely experienced players such as full back Ben Smith and centre Ryan Crotty out of the squad altogether.


Instead Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue form the centre partnership, while George Bridge [seven caps] and Sevu Reece [five caps] are on the wings.

Hansen has clearly favoured form over pedigree. The exception to the rule being second row Brodie Retallick who comes into the starting XV despite playing just 30 minutes of rugby so far at the tournament. "Brodie is a bit of a freak when it comes to fitness," explained Hansen whose horse, Nature Strip, runs in The Everest, a prestigious Sydney sprint race with a prize-pool of £7.4m, five hours before the All Blacks take on Ireland.

"I guess you could say my second horse will be the All Blacks on Saturday, although I'm not too sure the boys will like being called horses," Hansen said. "Obviously it is a highlight to have a horse in a race like the Everest. There's not a lot I can do. I can't ride him, I can't train him, I can't carry him so it's just a matter of sit back and enjoy that for what it is.

"But you can have an influence during the week with this team. And we have tried to do that and provide an environment where we get to Saturday with them excited, full of energy and ready to rumble."