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All Blacks will bounce back – Mehrtens

Coughing up the ball: Hore loses the ball in contact during his side’s 14-7 win over France at the National Sports Centre

Andrew Mehrtens has backed New Zealand to embark on another record-breaking run after their 18-game winning streak was ended by Ireland last weekend.

One of the greatest players New Zealand has ever produced, Mehrtens was in Chicago with the Classic All Blacks squad to watch the historic match at an atmospheric Soldier Field.

He believes Ireland are on an upward curve under Joe Schmidt, their Kiwi coach, who has evolved the team’s trademark “fire-and-brimstone” performances into a more intelligent and cohesive unit.

“We were in Chicago to watch the game and it was a great occasion and a fantastic performance,” said Mehrtens, who has travelled to Bermuda for the World Rugby Classic.

“Ireland thoroughly deserved to win and good on them for it. I imagine they will be celebrating long and hard, and they deserve it.

“Ireland have always had teams that have come out fire and brimstone and have traditionally lasted maybe about 50 or 60 minutes. But they’ve been better in recent years and they’re a quality side.”

Ireland might have broke the All Blacks’ aura of invincibility before a sea of green, as Irish supporters flocked in their masses to Soldier Field, but Mehrtens is confident New Zealand will restore their pride when they face Ireland in Dublin in a rematch next Saturday.

“These guys are amazing; to have won two World Cups back to back and to have set the standards as high as they have has opened a gap,” said Mehrtens, a former fly half who made 70 appearances for his country.

“People were talking about the All Blacks going unbeaten on tour and getting it up into the 20s, whereby now it’s slightly more achievable at 19. They’re not invincible but the quality and consistency of their performances has been awesome to watch. It’s hard to compare eras but results-wise they’re in a class of their own.”

Last Saturday’s enthralling 40-29 victory, Ireland’s first over the All Blacks in 111 years, was a fitting tribute to Anthony Foley, the late Munster head coach, with the players forming a figure-of-eight formation while facing the Haka before the game.

Foley, who played No 8 for Ireland, died last month in his hotel room in Paris hours before his side were scheduled to play Racing 92 in a European Champions Cup tie.

Mehrtens has no doubt that Schmidt’s side, particularly the Munster contingent such as CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo, would have been spurred on by the memory of one the most popular figures in Irish rugby.

“I’m sure that would have played a part, particularly for the Munster boys, who played under [Foley],” Mehrtens said. “You don’t want to overhype things, though, and get overly passionate.

“In rugby these days you need to keep very lucid and make the right decisions, so I’m not sure how much passion actually drives you.

“It’s probably fuelling you in the background and your preparations. Whatever they used it worked really well, didn’t it.”

The 43-year-old is among several star names in the Classic All Blacks squad, including Riki Flutey, Charles Hore and Reuben Thorne.

He watched from the sidelines as they won their opening game 14-7 against France at North Field on Monday night and does not expect to play unless his team are depleted through injuries.

“I’m not sure I can add any more value on the field, but I’m certainly here to support the boys as much as I can,” said Mehrtens, whose side play Argentina in tomorrow’s semi-final at 8.30pm.

“It’s my first time in Bermuda and I’ve been looking forward to it for a while — I’m chuffed to be here.

“If we’re well down on injuries and absolutely desperate then I may have to play. I’m enjoying watching and supporting the team at the moment.”