Andy Farrell is hoping the pain of defeat to Australia will reveal the size of Ireland’s heart for the battles ahead on this tour Down Under.
Ireland are playing catch-up in this three-Test series with the Wallabies having lost last weekend’s opener 18-9 in Brisbane, putting the tourists in a win or bust scenario going into Saturday’s second game at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.
For defence coach Farrell and a number of the Irish stars, there will be a sense of dejá vu having been in a similar position last summer in New Zealand when the British & Irish Lions went down to the All Blacks in the first Test at Eden Park.
That Farrell and the coaching staff led by Warren Gatland coaxed a series-levelling performance out of the Lions in Wellington seven days later bodes well for Ireland and the Englishman is looking forward to finding out if his players have what it takes to rebound.
“We’ll see what we’re made of,” Farrell said yesterday.
“I mean, this is what top-level rugby’s all about. We’ll see what the good old-fashioned Irish ticker’s about, won’t we? It’s the game that matters for us to stay alive.
“There’s a few lads that are a bit down on themselves, a bit frustrated. I think there’s a realisation there that they deserved to win and that hurts within itself. I do get the sense that after a couple of meetings and understanding how we need to move forward for the rest of the week that the key is to hold them back, especially after watching training this morning.”
Reining in players’ emotional desire to make amends before unleashing it at kick-off is Ireland’s greatest challenge of this training week because, as Farrell sees it, the problems that led to defeat at Suncorp Stadium last Saturday are simple fixes.
“Sometimes it isn’t complicated. Sometimes it’s a little bit of attitude and a bit of fight. There is a little bit of a realisation if we’re totally honest, that they edged a few areas that are pretty precious to us and that we’ve been good at in the past.
“That’s why we need to make sure that we balance the week out and make sure that we’re ready for Saturday.”
What makes the Irish so disappointed with their performance last weekend — and explains why Farrell described the players as “pretty angry, grumbly, walking around like bears with sore heads” — was that they fell short in facets of the game in which they would normally excel.
The chief issues arose at the breakdown contest and under the high ball, both areas the Wallabies dominated for long periods, with David Pocock and Michael Hooper leading the home charge at ruck time and full-back Israel Folau a superior presence in the air.
“Well we’re good at that, aren’t we?” Farrell said.
“You can talk all day long about the brilliance of certain people at the breakdown for them but we’ve prided ourselves and shown in the past that not too many people get access that way into our game.
“A lot of it is to do not just with the breakdown guys but the ball carrier himself. He can have a better impact there, and the animation around the ball carrier which gives you one-on-one tackles rather than two-on-one tackles. But we’re normally pretty good [in those areas]; I’d say the best in the world at [operating with] no time and space but we were slow to react to certain things at the weekend.”
That message has been relayed to the players by Joe Schmidt’s coaching team and willingly acknowledged by the recipients as Ireland prepare to return a number of frontline players to the starting line-up when the head coach reveals his side on Thursday morning.
“You set a different tone in accordance to what your team needs,” Farrell said yesterday.
“We’re pretty good at that. We’re a tight group, an honest group. We can say it as it is — what’s good enough and what’s not — at this type of level.
“The reality is that there’s a lot of guys that’ve played a lot of rugby and probably needed a rest or two last week but there are also some guys that haven’t played too much rugby and the pace and intensity of the top 1% Test-match rugby we’ll be better for that exprience.
“We’ve got that game under our belt now and we realise how much we need to up our game.”
Having been held tryless by the Wallabies last weekend, Farrell agreed Ireland’s performance needed to improve in attack as well as defence if the tourists are to level the series this Saturday morning.
“We need to take our chances. We made quite a few breaks and our instinctive reaction wasn’t quick enough. You can talk about the breakdown after the [line] break, but we want to finish those tries off in the first instance.
“Sometimes it’s not rocket science. Sometimes you get quick ball by intent and we’ve got good enough players, on the back of good go-forward, to make it happen, and we expect that to happen this weekend.”
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