TOKYO, 15 Oct - New Zealand versus Ireland has become one of the titanic rugby rivalries in large part thanks to the battle of wits between two coaching masters, Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt.
It is a thoroughly modern rivalry made in the land of the long white cloud.
Saturday’s quarter-final in Tokyo will be the most significant chapter yet in the respectful and cerebral rivalry between the two Kiwis, pictured above, under whose auspices this fixture has developed from being a completely one-sided affair into one of the most engrossing in the sport.
For 108 long years, on 27 separate occasions, Ireland tried in vain to beat the All Blacks. Then, in 2013, Schmidt was signed up as their coach and everything changed.
In November of that year, he almost inspired them to a historic triumph over Hansen's world champions at Lansdowne Road, only to be cruelly overhauled 24-22 by a Ryan Crotty try in the second minute of added time and a retaken Aaron Cruden conversion.
Three years later, at Chicago's Soldier Field, Ireland's 111-year wait for victory finally ended as Schmidt masterminded a 40-29 triumph, only for Hansen to eke out revenge a fortnight later, 21-9 in Dublin.
Then, in their most recent encounter last November, Ireland earned their landmark first win on home soil with a 16-9 win.
It left Shag and Schmiddy - to give them their nicknames - at 2-2 and has set up a potentially defining contest at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday. In his final campaign Hansen, the former policeman from the South Island, is seeking to become the first coach to guide a team to successive titles. Schmidt, the one-time schoolteacher from the North Island, is often touted as the one who may just end up replacing Hansen.
Neither of them will make anything of this being a personal duel - they seem to get on too well and have too much respect for each other for that. But there is surely no question that 60-year-old Hansen would love to outthink Schmidt, six years his junior, after suggestions that the younger man has perhaps, tactically, had the better of him during their reigns.
Hansen, however, could not resist beginning the mind games by suggesting that, sometimes, you can overthink things.
"We have got weaknesses, like everybody else," Hansen said. "You know Joe does a lot of study, so that can be a strength and a weakness. We might be able to set him up."
🚨Team announcement🚨— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 17, 2019
Here's the @IrishRugby that will face the @AllBlacks in the quarter-finals at #RWC2019 #NZLvIRE #WebbEllisCup
Find out where you can watch at https://t.co/z0BgdPYBjN pic.twitter.com/8zaVJajwZn
As Schmidt is renowned for his studious preparation that will not be easy but, throughout the build-up, Hansen has emphasised one reason why the All Blacks may have an advantage in the knockout stages: they have the experience of facing huge pressure in every match they play.
"There is a lot of respect from both sides," said Hansen. "We played them in November and it was a titanic struggle but on the day they were the better side. Most teams we play get up 10 per cent better than they normally do. They are no different.
"The big difference here is it is a do-or-die game for both teams."
Not to mention their two coaches.
Tale of the coaching tape
|STEVE HANSEN||JOE SCHMIDT|
|Mosgiel, South Island, NZ||Born||Kawakawa, North Island, NZ|
|Policeman||Former profession||English teacher|
|Canterbury||Playing career highest level||Manawatu|
|Canterbury, Wales, New Zealand||Teams as head coach||Bay of Plenty, Leinster, Ireland|
|National Provincial Champion 1997, 2001||Best non-test achievements||European champions at Leinster 2011, 2012|
|P 101, W88, D4, L9||NZ/Ire Test coaching records||P 69, W 50, D 1, L 18|
|2||Head to head coaching meetings||2|
|Winners 2015||Best World Cup performance||Quarter-final 2015, 2019|
|(6) 2012, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18||Rugby Championship/6 Nations triumphs||(3) 2014, 2015, 2018|
|(4) 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016||World Rugby coach of the year||2018|