Steve Hansen has hailed Joe Schmidt for shifting Ireland’s “thought process” in dragging the Grand Slam champions to second in the world rankings.
Head coach Schmidt has led Ireland to three Six Nations titles, including last year’s clean sweep, turning the men in green into a genuine global power.
Kiwi boss Schmidt could well return home to his native New Zealand after next year’s World Cup, and if so the 53-year-old would push himself into the reckoning as a future All Blacks coach.
Schmidt’s side host back-to-back world champions New Zealand in Dublin tomorrow, with New Zealand boss Hansen praising his counterpart for forcing a paradigm performance shift with Ireland.
“Look, you’ve got to admire what they’re doing,” said Hansen.
“Each coach has got to coach the group of athletes the way that best suits them.
“That was something I found out when I was in Wales (as head coach). You might have an idea of how you want to play, but if you don’t have the athletes that can do that you have to rejig your thought process.
“They hang on to the ball for long periods of time; they’re probably the team in World Rugby that hang on to the ball the most.
“When they don’t get what they want with that they’ll take to the air and they’ve got a good kicking game.
“You’ve got to admire all of that, it’s winning and they’ll punish you. They’ll find a weakness. He’s pretty good, Joe, at finding a trick or two so we’ll be expecting one or two coming our way on Saturday.”
Ireland were languishing in eighth place in the world rankings when Schmidt took the helm in late 2013.
All Blacks boss Hansen lays the credit for their steady rise up the charts at Schmidt’s feet, admitting the best way for New Zealand to stop Ireland is to hog the ball themselves.
Asked how to stop Ireland suffocating his side with possession, Hansen replied: “You hang on to it yourself; have a crack at them at source.
“So, set-piece is going to be vital. What we do with the ball ourselves is important and so if we kick it we’ve got to kick it well, make sure we get a chance to get it back and do a wee bit of suffocating ourselves.
“What most people don’t understand is that everybody we play has the game of their lives, because we’re the team that they want to beat and they get up for for it.
“So they’re playing 10 per cent better than they would have from the get-go and if they’re a good side playing 10 per cent better, then we’ve got to improve a lot ourselves.
“Sometimes it’s a real battle. This time of year particularly, we’re coming to the end of our season and we’ve got to find ways to get energised and play with real purpose.”