This becomes a delicate balancing act now. There are some very smart people in the Irish backroom team with Joe Schmidt, but this is mostly about the Irish players and the World Cup.
You can see the confidence is skin deep at the moment, it’s not in their bones.
Once upon a time, we would hear somebody ask: What does O’Driscoll or O’Connell need a coach for? Well, coaches can do plenty with a player, but when you lose confidence yourself, coaches are borderline redundant.
They can keep telling you stuff, reiterating positive messages, but this is a gut thing. Confidence is playing on instinct, playing on your feelings.
I look at what made the Crusaders different: They have a very good capacity to work their way through difficult moments in games.
The same with New Zealand, whose form coming into the World Cup was quite sketchy, but they could have put 100 points on Canada, having beaten South Africa.
With Ireland, at the moment, everything is laboured and a struggle. I get it.
It was epitomised by Rob Kearney’s first try yesterday against the Russians. He is through with Ringrose and Conway outside him. He keeps the ball in his left hand to make sure when the easiest thing to do was move the ball and pop it outside. A better defender could have made that awkward.
It’s over-thinking. But it’s redeemable. Ireland’s players came to Japan with the focus and a goal of at least reaching a World Cup semi-final. That’s been parked for an urgent search for form. From my own experience of being in Irish camps, sometimes you can over-care and that becomes a negative.
There’s a time to simplify priorities. Like putting points on the board. I watched Richie Mo’unga nail eight kicks out of eight against Canada on Wednesday. The All Blacks won 63-0, but his focus, on his business, was lethal. Every person doing their job.
I don’t have the knowledge to comment on who pulls this Irish dressing room together, but this would be a very good moment for him (or them) to lead.
Instinct is not something Ireland can rely on if the last two games are a reliable indication of these things. Compared to other countries, Ireland possibly find it harder to go the instinctive route because of the trust they have in Joe’s game plan. Some of those Irish players have been working with Joe’s playbook for their entire professional careers.
See the weakness, seize upon it, and execute. But since the Scotland game, Ireland’s players appear to have misplaced that capacity to execute. And as a possible consequence, they look to be lacking that extra 10% ‘oomph’ to win collisions, that extra bite that dismantled the Scots.
When it works, when that confidence in themselves is deep in their bones, Ireland look a different unit. They were trying to talk up the 35-0 win over Russia yesterday, and that’s fine because there were positives in there.
Keeping Russia scoreless, and Scotland to three points, is nothing to be sniffing at. When we get to the cup rugby phase of the World Cup, a ‘nil’ is valuable commodity and will always give you hope. Even when your attack is misfiring, it means you can win games.
If Ireland could keep their quarter-final opponents to 15 points, they will win. And remember, it’s not so long ago they kept New Zealand to nine points in Dublin.
But they will need Joey Carbery. I don’t like the sound of ankle issues for a man who’s had a grim time with such problems.
Samoa and the quarter-final will be attritional, but our two pivots badly need game time. Johnny Sexton could have done with at least an hour yesterday. If he didn’t have an injury problem, Ireland are clearly trying to manage that delicate balance between important gametime and preserving a key assets.
That’s borderline stuff. The fear I have is when we need Johnny to go into the red zone in terms of minutes.
All of which highlights the importance of Carbery. We saw yesterday how much this team is crying out for the genius of Carbery. And that’s all it might take to light up a quarter-final for Ireland. He has that special skillset to trouble defences.
When you win a game like Ireland did against Scotland in the Pool A opener, it means you can go harder in your reviews, get down and dirty. In the current scenario, that’s trickier. Our performances are like yoyos. The difference in six days between Scotland and Japan was more staggering than anything I have seen in a Six Nations cycle. Ireland didn’t get caught on the hop against Japan.
They got beaten by a superior performance, so that was a brittle group preparing for Kobe. As it looked.
It’s encouraging to see Andy Farrell speak of a no-excuse culture. We challenge the structure of the global season and the disadvantages in World Cup year for teams in the northern hemisphere, but how much of a problem has it been for England and Wales so far? Or for Ireland in the first game? Everything has changed since losing to Japan.
Had Ireland been playing a top-tier nation yesterday, one wonders would some senior player, or two, have paid a price for Japan in terms of selection?
The coaching staff can go two ways, but they need (and will expect) a reaction from the senior players. They have nine days to regroup and do their business against Samoa, still oblivious to the identity of their last eight opponents.
That’s no bad thing. I give Scotland a serious chance of denying Japan a quarter-final spot in the final game of the pool. A climactic burst from the Scots is a thing in World Cups.
Another trend you can usually rely upon is a statement from the Pumas. This has been a strange tournament for Argentina, made all the stranger by the exclusion of Nicolas Sanchez from the matchday squad for the game against England in Pool C tomorrow. Mario Ledesma has chosen Benjamin Urdapilleta of Castres at 10, which is not the twist I expected.
But there has to be a bite in the Pumas; they can’t be that damp. It would be the dampest squib ever from a proud nation at a World Cup.
If England win, there’s a Wales-France World Cup quarter-final looming. The French have changed it up at half-back again for Tonga this weekend. Do they know what they want?
But would you bet against them if it came to Wales?