Steve Hansen expects Ireland's Conor Murray to return against New Zealand

Conor Murray crosses for Ireland in their Six Nations victory against Italy in Feb. 2018. Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Steve Hansen says he expects Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray to return from injury against New Zealand on Saturday.

Murray has not played since June because of a neck injury and was not included in Joe Schmidt's November internationals squad, but is close to making a full recovery.

The Munster No.9 scored for Ireland in their famous win against New Zealand in 2016 and the All Blacks head coach has increased the pressure on the home side by saying one of his squad would choose to play if they were in the same situation.

"I believe Murray will play," Hansen said. "I just think he'll play. I'm not saying that to stir any trouble, I just think he's a real competitor. He'll want to play and if he's got a chance, I reckon he will play.

"If that's one of our guys in the same boat, they'd be putting their hand up to play."

Hansen added that the winning side on Saturday will be able to claim they are the best team in world rugby. The hype surrounding the clash between Hansen's World Cup winners and Schmidt's Six Nations champions has been growing steadily for the past 12 months as the consistent Irish have risen to No.2 in the world rankings.

"It is one and two, so whoever wins will be the best side in the world regardless of rankings," Hansen told reporters in Dublin.

"They are the No.2 side in the world and you don't get to play one and two that often when they are in two separate hemispheres, so when they do come about, they become pretty big games."

The rivalry between the sides has intensified in recent years with Schmidt's side no longer considered plucky underdogs as he has helped shape them into a Northern Hemisphere powerhouse.

The All Blacks needed a converted try in injury time to claim a 24-22 triumph in Dublin five years ago, before Ireland ended a 111-year losing streak to New Zealand in 2016 when they ran in five tries to secure a remarkable 40-29 win in Chicago.

That triumph ended an 18-match winning streak for the All Blacks, who wasted little time gaining revenge when they won a rematch 21-9 two weeks later in Dublin.

Information from Reuters contributed to this report