Andy Farrell insists New Zealand will still be “top of the tree” even if Ireland beat the All Blacks on Saturday.
New Zealand will retain the world number-one ranking even if number two side Ireland win in Dublin this weekend.
The All Blacks’ top-dog status would have been under threat had they lost to England last weekend. But their 16-15 victory means the back-to-back world champions will stay world number one come the turn of the year.
New Zealand boss Steve Hansen has already this week insisted Saturday’s victor should be viewed as the world’s best, whatever the rankings – but Ireland assistant coach Farrell believes the All Blacks are the clear front-runners.
“This is a side that has been top of the tree for nine years, and let’s be fair, it’s been longer than that really,” said Farrell about New Zealand.
“There’s only one team that is top of the tree. But it’s an important year (for Ireland). It’s important for us to keep building and keep trying to close that gap.”
Assistant boss Farrell is firmly in Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) minds as a replacement for Joe Schmidt should the head coach opt to return to his native New Zealand after next year’s World Cup.
Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster is on the IRFU radar to step into the Ireland set-up too, leading to the possibility of Farrell linking up again with his former England colleague.
Farrell neatly sidestepped the issue on Tuesday, insisting he would be foolish to address such talk when preparing to face the All Blacks.
Asked to comment on whether he could step up as Ireland head coach in time, Farrell replied: “Thank you very much! Look, that type of thing, you won’t expect me to answer that today in the week that we’ve got.
“What I would say on that is that I have a fantastic job, I really enjoy myself working under Joe, learning.
“Joe will make his decision in time, I’ll keep enjoying myself and hopefully keep getting better.”
Farrell confirmed Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose and Kieran Marmion all trained fully on Tuesday so should be in contention for selection for Saturday.
Kearney has been battling past a shoulder issue, while Ringrose suffered a bang to the hip in Ireland’s 54-7 win over Italy in Chicago.
Scrum-half Marmion limped out of Saturday’s 28-17 win over Argentina in Dublin with an ankle complaint, but has now shaken that off.
And with British and Irish Lions star Conor Murray still not match fit due to neck issues, Marmion’s availability is a clear boost to the hosts.
On Kearney, Ringrose and Marmion, Farrell said: “They all trained, the full session, and obviously we’ll take stock of that over the next 24 hours but they are on the right track.
“Other than the lads you already know about everyone took the field and some of the lads are progressing well.”