The dust has settled on the opening two rounds of this year’s Six Nations but it still isn’t clear as to where Ireland stand.
Out-thought and out-fought by England in Dublin, Joe Schmidt’s side scrapped and sometimes stuttered their way to a crucial win against the Scots in Edinburgh. Some have taken that as proof of normal service returned, while others see it as more cause for concern.
Rome in two weeks’ time will hardly firm things up to any degree. If it does then it is likely to be because Ireland have struggled badly against the Italians or, God forbid, lost to them. France in Dublin follows that and who knows what state they will be in?
Look at things that way and it may be that the jury remains out on this Ireland side’s current health until the trip to Cardiff, where Wales await on March 16, though Stuart Lancaster believes there is little reason for worry as things stand.
Lancaster was in the Aviva Stadium for the Ireland-England encounter and, attached though he is to players on both sides thanks to his four years in charge of the Red Rose and his current brief with Leinster, he detached himself from the emotion of the occasion when taking stock.
What he saw from Schmidt’s side wasn’t reason for alarm, and he detected nothing to suggest this was an Ireland team that had failed to square itself away with the extra layers of expectation and pressure brought on by their superb run in 2018.
“The way the game played out, England deserved it in the end, but Ireland have got too many good players and too many good coaches in the system not to come back from that. In some ways, you learn a lot more from when you lose than when you win. It’s painful to lose, but Ireland will benefit from it in the long run.”
Schmidt spoke after that England game about the difficulty in getting players from four provinces clicking as one at the start of the Six Nations and Lancaster has sympathy for that, even if he won three of the four opening tournament games during his time with England.
“With club coaching, you’ve got the players day in, day out, week in, week out, playing your way, so it’s easier to create that. With international coaching, Munster play one way, Connacht play another way, Ulster play another way and Leinster play another way. You have to marry those all together. It takes a bit longer, sometimes. That’s what Ireland will be searching for now, that cohesion, that flow that we have seen. It’s not like it’s not there. We have seen it [against] New Zealand, in the four November wins.
“Now, we have a great week, a week off to train in and then a week to prepare for Italy, to try and get that cohesion and flow, and then you have the two final games to try to finish strongly, France at home and Wales away. I think Ireland will finish strongly.”
Sean O’Brien’s news aside, it was a quiet day on the rugby front with no new injuries revealed following Ireland’s win in Scotland. Some players carrying knocks have been released back to the provinces, with other squad members due to play Guinness PRO14 this week. Garry Ringrose is among those recuperating with their clubs right now. The centre will report back to Ireland camp for further supervision of his hamstring issue by the IRFU medical team next week, while Dan Leavy continues to rehab his calf and will not play against Zebre on Saturday. Devin Toner has had surgery on his ankle problem and is expected to miss eight weeks. Fergus McFadden, however, has returned to full training after a hamstring issue and will be assessed later in the week.
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