Steve Hansen quipped that he “can’t tell you Irish too much” when quizzed about whether he plans to mix and match Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga at the Rugby World Cup.
Hansen, speaking at a press conference in Tokyo, made several references to Ireland being the number one team in the world – and World Cup favourites.
He made a point about first five eighths being the “main computers of the game”.
“They drive it. All the good teams have good 10s [first fives]. Look at the all the teams that are coming here thinking they can win it, they’ve got good 10s and a lot of them have good nines [halfbacks] as well.”
But when an Irish journalist asked if the All Blacks would be mixing Barrett and Mo’unga at No 18, Hansen became coy.
“I can’t be telling you Irish too much. You are number one in the world. You should be telling us. What do you think? Think it’s a good idea?”
Hansen also had some fun with the Irish press contingent when discussing potential World Cup winners.
“You blokes are number one so you gotta be the favourites,” he said, according to a report in The Irish Times.
“Whoever wants to be favourite’s can be favourite. It’s been proven time and time again that’s not what wins the World Cup. You gotta go earn the right to win it.”
Hansen is attempting to guide the All Blacks to an unprecedented third successive World Cup following their victories in 2011 and 2015.
He said they would be drawing on some pioneering spirit.
“To try and do things that have never been done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about,” Hansen said.
“We came away from the home shores and settled in a country at the bottom of the Earth. We had to find ways to live in isolation when life wasn’t like it is today.
“They became pioneers. That’s important in life and particularly in sport; you got to strive to be leaders rather than followers. We have an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets; we can shy away from it or get really excited about it. We are really excited by it.”
Irish rugby writer Gavin Cummiskey issued a history lesson in his Irish Times report, saying: “Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe themselves as ‘white pioneers’ because Aotearoa, to give the land of the long white cloud its Māori name, existed before James Cook mapped the coastline in 1769. In fact, Polynesians settled there in the 1250s.”
Hansen has been feted by the Japanese media and public since the All Blacks’ arrival in Japan, but he insists the attention does not faze him.
“I’m not a gold, I’m a normal bloke,” he said in a 1News video.
“They will work that out in a few days, I’m sure.”
Hansen said All Blacks coaches were under a lot of scrutiny but he had “tried to live a normal life as much as I can”.
“It’s probably harder on the family. They are not here at the moment, but the yare the ones that have to hang around and wait.”
This content was originally published here.