A tough station has just become tougher for Ireland’s locks but Donncha O’Callaghan’s focus this week has been largely internal.
The usual clamour to swot up on the opposing forces ahead of a Test has been tempered somewhat with the World Cup looming over the horizon next month and, anyway, Ireland’s pack was given enough homework to do in Bordeaux seven days ago.
The lineout, especially.
The problem wasn’t that France secured all but one of their 15 throws — Ireland sacrificed ball at the front in order to limit potential damage from moves off the tail or in the middle — but the misfires on their own put-in.
In all, five balls were snaffled by the French. O’Callaghan can just about accept the odd one lost to exceptional defensive play but not those like the lost opportunity towards the end when an attacking position was spurned through their own devices.
“Yeah. Everyone’s been disappointed,” he admitted ahead of today’s return meeting with Marc Lievremont’s side.
“You never mind if they pinch a ball through good skill and stuff like that but when it’s poor execution it pisses me off no end because it’s your own mistake.
“In fairness, they have a good lineout. Near the end of the match they had fellas like [Julien] Bonnaire but if you look at that last line-out we lost, that was down to our own mistakes. It’s mad when you start chatting about these things.
“It’s good being down in the team room. It kind of comes from within, which is where the group is at the moment. Fellas have no problem putting their hand up, which is a great way to have it, but you’d take for better execution this week. That would be great.”
It wouldn’t be right to dwell on the negatives. The game in Stade Chaban-Delmas showed yet again that Ireland’s defence is in good working order and the restarts were encouraging although a largely productive evening in the scrums was overshadowed by two splinterings.
All in all, it was exactly the sort of test run required just a month out from the party in New Zealand and O’Callaghan’s claim that he felt as though he was “running around in wellies” for the first 10 minutes of his season bears testament to the early state of play.
Ireland can, and surely will, improve this week and next before checking into long-haul for the August 30 flight to the southern hemisphere and O’Callaghan little is being left to chance at Carton House these days as the clock winds down to D-Day.
“Everyone would rip off an arm to get things right at the moment,” says O’Callaghan, “especially after being through what we went through in the last one. Everyone wants to empty the bag and it is a great environment to be around.”
The 2007 debacle has been raised time and again in recent weeks. It is always there, in the back of the collective mindset, a red flashing light and bulwark against complacency or out-of-control levels of expectation.
The focus has changed this time. New coach, more warm-up games, greater focus on rugby than the gym but even O’Callaghan admits that it is far too soon to be comparing events now to those of four years ago.
What’s largely forgotten is the fact that Ireland actually won their two runouts, against Scotland and Italy, prior to the tournament in France last time and the Cork lock admits that a part of him would swap all talk of progress and structures for a victory against France.
“Absolutely. There’s a trade-off, really. You want to be doing your patterns perfectly. Like, we talked about the set-piece, you want to be executing them 100% but you’d pass them all for a result, really, in the end.
“Winning gives a good buzz around the place, it keeps everything going, but then again there’s a trade-off in it because you know why you’re playing these games, to get the detail right and to get our shape and to get our attack shapes right.”
Replacements for Ireland: J Flannery (Munster), T Court (Ulster), M McCarthy (Connacht), S Ferris (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).
Replacements for France: G Guirado (Perpignan), F Barcella (Biarritz), J Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), R Lakafia (Biarritz), D Yachvili (Biarritz), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), V Clerc (Toulouse), L Ducalcon (Castres).