Sydney - Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has hit back at Jamie Joseph after the Highlanders coach branded Super Rugby matches between Australian teams as "school stuff" while likening New Zealand derbies to "war".
This year's version of the southern hemisphere's provincial championship features more local derbies under a national conference system, which former All Black flank Joseph thinks is tougher on New Zealand teams.
"We played four New Zealand teams in a row - that's a big ask because they are very physical," Joseph told New Zealand's Dominion Post newspaper.
"You watch the Waratahs play the Reds and it's different rugby... it's like school stuff while we are at war."
McKenzie, whose Reds team top the standings after 13 weeks of the championship, said Joseph was mistaken, at least where last month's 19-15 victory over the Waratahs was concerned.
"He obviously didn't watch the game if he is saying that," McKenzie told Thursday's Australian newspaper.
"In terms of physicality, I don't know if we have made more tackles this season than we did in that match. We had no ball and we were getting worked over at scrum time."
Waratahs coach Chris Hickey agreed.
"School stuff? Looks like there's trouble in the playground," he told the paper.
"I find it really strange that he would say that. I felt the game we played against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium was like a test match in terms of intensity and physicality."
The Reds, like the Highlanders, have a bye this weekend before taking on New Zealand's seven-time champion Crusaders on May 29 in what will be a major test of their title ambitions.