Ireland: Steve Hansen’s ‘chokers’ warning for Ireland ahead of Rugby World Cup

Colin Newboult

Former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen believes that Ireland still have plenty to prove when the Rugby World Cup comes around later this year.

Andy Farrell’s men will go into the global tournament as one of the favourites after winning the Grand Slam – their fourth in total – on Saturday.

They defeated England 29-16 at the Aviva Stadium to claim the title, giving legendary fly-half Johnny Sexton the ideal Six Nations swansong.

World Cup target

Sexton and head coach Farrell both spoke afterwards about how this triumph is just another step on their journey towards the World Cup.

Ireland are looking to improve their woeful World Cup record of never getting past the quarter-finals and although Hansen believes that they could be contenders, the 63-year-old insists that there will be a lot of pressure on their shoulders.

“Ireland were good throughout the Six Nations,” he said.

“In that final game, they started off a bit shaky, and England rattled them a bit, but once the red card came, it was game over, and they were good enough to take advantage of it.

“They’re going well, ranked number one in the world, and they’ve had a great year so far.

“Every time a team is number one in the world, you’ve got to consider them to be a World Cup contender – but it’s a tough tournament to win, and they were number one going into the last one, weren’t they?

“So, they’ve seemed to struggle a little bit at World Cups. If it was the All Blacks, they’d probably be called ‘chokers’.

“But they’ve come a long way, they believe in themselves, and they’re a very good side, so they’re definitely a contender. But they’ll have to overcome the pressure of not having gone past the quarter-finals before, and there’ll be a lot of pressure involved in that.

“If they get through to the semi-finals, then they’re in new territory. That’s something they’ll have to deal with that they’ve never dealt with before, and it’s always hard to deal with something you haven’t dealt with before.”

Future Lions coach

Ireland’s success under Farrell has led the head coach to become the favourite for the British and Irish Lions role for the 2025 series in Australia.

The 47-year-old has been backed by the Irish Rugby Football Union should he be offered the job, and Hansen believes that it would be a good appointment.

“Andy’s doing a great job, isn’t he? He’s a good man, and a good rugby person, who I have a lot of time for,” he said.

“He’s a good leader, and he’s definitely got Ireland playing good footy, so why wouldn’t you make him Lions coach?”

Clash at Twickenham

Hansen makes his return to the international arena when his World XV outfit takes on Eddie Jones’ Barbarians team at Twickenham on May 28.

Both teams will have strong squads, with World XV recently being boosted by the additions of stars such as Semi Radradra, Marika Koroibete and Ngani Laumape.

“Like many Fijian players, Semi’s strong, fast, and a good athlete,” he added. “Fijians always just naturally know how to play footy. They love the running aspects of the game, and they play a lot of sevens, so they’re highly skilled and always brings that bit of x-factor.

“I know a lot about Ngani from his All Black days. Before he had a little injury [in Japan], he was playing outstanding rugby. Marika is just a wonderful player; lots of energy, and he works for 80 minutes.

“So, I’m just really looking forward to working with them all and excited about the game because it’s going to be played in the right manner.

“Traditionally, you want a Barbarians game to be open and flowing, and a World XV game is the same. This event gets you a combination of both those teams – and both coaches will treat it with the respect that it deserves.

“Whilst both sides will have a little bit of fun during the week, come Saturday, they’ll have the freedom to express themselves and pour it out on the park. I’m sure we’ll see a wonderfully high-skilled spectacle that hopefully, people will come along and really, really enjoy.”

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