Ireland insist they will not blink in the battle of the analysis mind games ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with New Zealand.
All Blacks boss Steve Hansen lit the fuse on a potentially explosive week on Monday by vowing to lay false traps for Ireland’s master tactician head coach Joe Schmidt.
Schmidt is famed for developing one-off strike moves to outwit opponents, with Jacob Stockdale scoring the decisive try from one such ruse in Ireland’s maiden Dublin win over New Zealand in November.
That 16-9 triumph has in part drawn the All Blacks to push into a more expansive attacking style, and the two sides’ Tokyo clash on Saturday will doubtless prove an intriguing last-eight battle.
But even if All Blacks boss Hansen does set a few surprise moves for his Kiwi compatriot Schmidt, forwards coach Simon Easterby believes Ireland will be able to adapt on the run.
“I think there’s no game where you don’t try to manipulate the opposition, whether that’s setting in a different way in certain situations in the game on attack or defence,” said Easterby.
“I’ve no doubt they’ll have something we haven’t seen before and we’ll have something they haven’t seen before.
“So it’s part and parcel of the game these days, every side is analysed, there’s a lot of work goes on in the background to try and figure out how teams play the game, how they attack, how they defend.
“But ultimately it’s about going out and trying to be physical and trying to impose your game on the opposition, whether that’s in attack or defence. And we’ll be no different from them in that respect.”
New Zealand reacted to that November loss to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium by drawing up blueprints for a backline reshuffle.
Head coach Hansen has paired Richie Mo’unga at fly-half with Beauden Barrett at full-back, a twin playmaking combination that has already helped the All Blacks see off South Africa 23-13 in the pool stages.
New Zealand are bidding for an unprecedented third successive World Cup triumph, with the All Blacks firm favourites to prevail in Tokyo on Saturday.
When quizzed on the All Blacks’ dual playmaking options, Easterby insisted Ireland cannot afford to be fixated with one aspect of their supreme all-court approach.
“I guess every team gets to a point where they must keep evolving and try to stay ahead of their opposition, and we’re no different either,” said Easterby.
“They have so many threats across the park and can play in a number of different styles according to their personnel.
“You cannot switch off for a moment against them, and that’s part of the challenge.”
Welsh referee Nigel Owens will take charge of the encounter.
“I think it’s a good appointment, I think we’re familiar with him, so are the All Blacks,” said Easterby.
“He does a lot of Rugby Championship games, he gets a lot of coverage there.
“So I think he’s good, a good appointment, and both camps will be pretty happy to see Nigel out in the middle.
“He’s got a good way about him, he’ll allow the game to flow but will also be across all the set-piece work and I think he’ll be a good man to have in the middle.”
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