A Test match to kick off the World Cup warm-up campaign is an unusual jumping-off point for pre-season but Ireland intend to hit the ground running when they face Italy this Saturday.
With disappointing Six Nations defeats to England and Wales still in the rear-view mirror and a World Cup pool-opening showdown with Scotland six weeks away in Yokohama on September 22, Ireland have to buck the trends of the former and start the latter fully switched on and ready for action.
This Saturday, as Joe Schmidt’s team opens the Guinness Summer Series at Aviva Stadium against the Italians, provides the first opportunity to show that lessons have been learned.
Ireland assistant coach Greg Feek feels that applies to individual matches as well as the tournament as a whole.
“That’s all part of that, competitions, starts of games, have the intent,” said Feek.
“Basically it’s a reminder that one of our strengths is our contact area, being physical, and knowing our roles and things like that. On their day any team can be better at it if you aren’t, especially in a World Cup, so again, all teams will be trying to do that and we just have to make sure that we get our game going and get those incremental improvements.”
Scrum coach Feek believes this Ireland squad have what it takes to rectify the wrongs of their Six Nations campaign.
“It’s about getting better and learning and putting those two together. When you do get a bloody nose, that’s not a good feeling after a game but you need to correct, whether it’s a technique or a running line or something positional or whatever it is, a decision that you’ve made. Hopefully we can turn that and the player, the team can be better from it.
Feek thinks the current process of selecting a final squad of 31 is more intense than it was four years ago.
“Yeah, it’s intense. We’re not flipping tables or anything like that, you know, but it’s good, robust conversation and sometimes it’s a little bit of ‘well, we have to wait and see’. Hooker, lock, these guys have to front up in the next, you know, to see where they’re at.
“There might be close calls and that’s the exciting thing for me, but my job is to give Faz (defence coach Andy Farrell) and Joe and all the other coaches, to give the players the best opportunity as well. That we get our messages right and processes. So we’re all looking at each other; well, I know I am in terms of that.”