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All Blacks claim underdog status for Test

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 17/11/2016 Angelo Risso

It's a rare day when the coach of the world's foremost Test rugby outift brands his side the underdogs for an upcoming match.

But that's exactly what All Blacks coach Steve Hansen did on Thursday, throwing the gauntlet down to Saturday's opponents Ireland after their surprise 40-29 win in Chicago.

The back-to-back world champions were clearly second-best in the Windy City two weeks ago, failing to contain the Irish set-piece and kicking game.

Yet despite having many of the world's best players in his side, Hansen attempted to heap all the pressure on Ireland by labelling them favourites.

It was clear Ireland wouldn't be satiated by a single victory over the All Blacks, he said, despite finally breaking an 111-year drought in Chicago.

"They won the last game and they won it easy, so we have to be the underdogs," Hansen said.

"It's irrelevant whether it's strange or one that we are used to, it's just a fact."

Kiwi-born Irish coach Joe Schmidt begged to differ, however, demonstrating his renowned attention to detail by listing the odds for Saturday's match.

No side coming off a World Cup win and 18-Test streak could possibly head into any match as the plucky little guy, regardless of the circumstances, he said.

The return of locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, with a combined 140 caps, would only tip the match further in New Zealand's favour.

"I'm pretty sure Steve himself has a few tricks up his sleeve, a couple of boys at six-foot-seven are good tricks to pull out of your pocket," Schmidt said.

"I wouldn't suggest he become a bookmaker, I think we're at about 6/1, not that we're allowed to indulge in that but it's probably better than the 12/1 or 13/1 in Chicago."

Both sides denied mind games were at play in the lead up to Saturday's Test but the tension hanging in the air in Dublin told a different story.

Hansen expressed disappointment with his side's preparation in the lead-up to the Chicago Test, questioning whether the city's goings-on had been a factor in their lethargy.

One player who didn't produce his brilliant best was winger Julian Savea, who knocked-on down with a half-chance brewing when the All Blacks were down 33-29.

He was also tackled in-goal with less than five minutes remaining, allowing Irish second-five Robbie Henshaw to snare the game-clincher from the following scrum.

The 45-try "Bus" was keen to remind the world of the Kiwis' quality, with training this week reaching fever pitch and many players rested last week against Italy.

"I guess we should be the underdogs, we lost, but the boys are really keen to get into the work this week," Savea said.

"You do want to take some emotion into it, because we're hurting, but you don't want to have too much because you want to still focus and be clear."

New Zealand have not lost back-to-back matches against the same opponent since 2009, when they were beaten three times in a row by South Africa in Bloemfontein, Durban and Hamilton.

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