The man who led the All Blacks to the 2015 World Cup reckons Ireland's biggest opponents at this year's tournament will be themselves.
Steve Hansen was in charge when New Zealand inflicted a record World Cup defeat on Joe Schmidt's side at the 2019 edition and has been impressed with the job Andy Farrell has done.
The former England dual-code international has steered Ireland to unprecedented success with a series win in New Zealand and a fourth Grand Slam, secured against his home nation on Saturday.
Once the celebrations have died down, Ireland's focus will turn to the tournament in France this autumn, where they'll hope to go further than any previous Irish side.
“Ireland were good throughout the Six Nations,” Hansen 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.”
Farrell is the obvious candidate to lead the Lions to Australia in 2025, according to Hansen.
He added: “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’s a good leader and he’s definitely got Ireland playing good footy, so why wouldn’t you make him Lions coach?”
Since leaving his post as New Zealand head coach in 2019, Hansen has been working as a consultant with Japanese Top League outfit Toyota Verblitz.
Hansen's next focus is to coach a World XV that will face Eddie Jones’ Barbarians side at Twickenham on Sunday, 28 May (kick-off 3pm).
Semi Radradra, Marika Koroibete and Ngani Laumape – have all been confirmed to be appearing for the World XV, and Hansen admits he cannot wait to return to Twickenham for what is set to be an epic clash.
“Like many Fijian players, Semi’s strong, fast, and a good athlete,” he said. “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.”
General admission tickets for the blockbuster Barbarian FC vs World XV clash are on sale now from www.ticketmaster.co.uk/barbarians at the early-bird price of just £25* for Adults and £15* for Under-16s. For a 10% discount on groups of ten or more, please visit www.eticketing.co.uk/rfu/events. Hospitality packages are available to purchase from £299 per person via www.twickenhamstadium.com. *booking fees apply