'Best ever': Hansen takes aim at critics


The All Blacks' youthful attacking group, mentored by a coach in Ian Foster that Steve Hansen believes is at the top of his game, ripped the Irish to shreds in their quarter-final in Tokyo but most of the credit has been handed to the forward pack for allowing them to do so.

The Irish, the No 1 team in the world earlier in the year and backed by a noisy, exuberant support, had no answer and their search for a World Cup knockout win continues.

It's the All Blacks who once again progress; this time to a semifinal against England in Yokohama on Saturday, a game that Hansen was wary about discussing until this 46-14 win has been celebrated.

Fair enough, too, because there was quite a bit of good stuff to reflect on.

"We've had a really good week and the guys have had a bounce in their step," Foster said.

"It wasn't a heavy week and they wanted to play. We had to play well up front against Ireland – if you don't it's really hard to do some of those special things happening out wide.

"We won the forward battle and that was where the battle overall was won."

Hansen, who began by paying credit to retiring Ireland captain Rory Best and coach Joe Schmidt, added the All Blacks got an edge with their defence: "When you're doing that teams can second guess themselves and psychologically you can get an edge."

An elated Aaron Smith scores the first try for the All Blacks. Photo: Reuters
An elated Aaron Smith scores the first try for the All Blacks. Photo: Reuters

Hansen also paid credit to his fellow coaches - particularly Foster whom he said was coaching as well as he ever has - and skipper Kieran Read, whom he said had received some "flak" at home for his form following his return from a back injury but was now playing better than ever.

Read, wearing an ice pack on his right knee, said: "Our first half probably set up the game. We put plenty of pressure on. They're a strong forward-oriented team who can attack as well… we were able to score some tries which gave us an opportunity to go in front.

"It was a very tough test match. The score probably flattered us. We had to make a lot of tackles."

Hansen said in the build-up to this match he only wanted the right for his team to training on Monday. He certainly has that. England are lurking in what is likely to be an epic encounter and another clash of styles. Rest assured that young men such as George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Jordie Barrett and Richie Mo'unga will once again be backed to deliver.

"I'm looking forward to playing them too now that we've earned the right to," Hansen said. "They'll be a massive challenge but I don't think tonight's the night to be talking about that.

"You've got to take time to step off the merry-go-round and relax. We'll do that and enjoy our moment. It was a special test match, one the All Blacks and New Zealanders can be proud of.

"We won't think about England until tomorrow."

It couldn't have gone much better for the All Blacks against an Irish side who were always going to struggle chasing the game.

Scott Barrett replaced Sam Cane at halftime and then went to lock when replacing Brodie Retallick after 57 minutes. Retallick, who has had only 30 minutes of game time at this tournament following a return from a dislocated shoulder, appeared exhausted. He had definitely emptied the tank.

Sonny Bill Williams replaced centre Jack Goodhue at about the same time and played his part, too. The threats kept coming; Dane Coles, TJ Perenara, Jordie Barrett. It was relentless.

The kicking to width and in behind the Irish, the quick switches of play by Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett, the directness of the forwards in the first quarter and at the start of the second half - the men in green didn't know what had hit them. The All Blacks appeared to have all the answers even before the Irish knew what the questions were.

"I'd like to publicly acknowledge Rory Best and Joe Schmidt," said Hansen, who spoke to his rival at length in the middle of the pitch before kick-off.

"They've both had magnificent careers in their respective roles for Ireland. They've been fundamental in transforming Ireland into the No 1 team in the world earlier in the year. Congratulations to them - I know they're finishing up now. It's not the way they would have liked to have finished. Unfortunately sport's not fair."

As for the travelling support, they were appreciated too. "They don't mind travelling for a party," Hansen said. The singing drowned out the haka but there were no hard feelings. "It was sort of like a home match for them.

"Kiwis are quieter. We don't mind a party but we're not as boisterous."

- By Patrick McKendry

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