It was Robert Burns, that most famous of Scots, who wrote: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley,” signposting the futility of formulating detailed plans when there is no certainty of the ability to execute them.
Ireland’s track record under Joe Schmidt is such that his meticulously constructed schemes do not often go awry but a week on from that defeat to Wales, Burns’ words of caution circle the national side as they head to Murrayfield for today’s RBS 6 Nations finale against Scotland.
Seven days ago, the Grand Slam was still on, England had been put to the sword and Ireland stood on the brink of a record-breaking 11th successive win. Everything was looking good and the masterplan was working like a dream.
Yet Ireland strangely fell flat in Cardiff, caught napping at the Millennium Stadium by a hungry and ferocious Welsh side which forced early mistakes and made captain Paul O’Connell’s 100th cap the stuff of nightmares.
So today’s final round games become a three-way title race instead of an Irish coronation and a fixture against a winless, dysfunctional and desperate Scottish side suddenly looks a very tricky encounter.
The permutations for Irish success have been outlined elsewhere on these pages but merely beating Scotland may not be enough if the title is, as seems likely, to be decided by points differentials. For a side that has struggled to break down defences throughout this tournament, scoring only four tries in four games, that is a serious concern heading into a points chase.
Yet Ireland, despite last weekend’s setback, have been stressing that their best laid plans are still functional, the lessons of Cardiff have been learned and that only fine margins stand between them and free-flowing, try-scoring rugby.
“Guys are always ready to deliver,” O’Connell said yesterday, before echoing that Burns line.
“We were ready to deliver last week. We let a few things slip and came across a really good team. That happens sometimes. This week we go out with the same intentions we went out with last week, with a few things in the back of the mind we know we need to correct and know we need to get right. Hopefully we can do that.”
Those few things have been well documented in the wake of the Welsh Slam-stomping: poor discipline early on, a systems breakdown at the lineout, loss of the aerial battle and that inability to get over the tryline, save for a late penalty try from a driving maul.
O’Connell yesterday honed in on that lack of five-pointers.
“I think we’ve probably been a little bit disappointed with that. Even if you look back at the English game, I think we might have been held up over the line twice early on.
“Last weekend, in fairness to Wales, they had great defence but we no doubt created a whole lot of opportunities where we were really close to scoring.
“I think for us there’s big trust in what we’re doing. And that’s probably the biggest thing I see, from a player point of view, that’s different to other teams I’ve been involved in. There’s massive trust in what we’re doing and that trust won’t waver.
“We know that at times, when we’ve beaten France this year and beaten England this year, that while we’ve been delighted with the victory, we’ve been disappointed with a few small elements of our game that has probably led us to not scoring tries and taking opportunities like we have in the past. But because of that trust we’ll keep the faith and hopefully it’ll come right.”
There is one thing Ireland supporters, and there will be plenty of them in Edinburgh, can be sure of seeing: their side will start like men possessed.
Defeats have not come Ireland’s way very often under Schmidt but when they have, by Australia in November 2013 and England a year ago, the response has always been positive.
A week on from the Wallabies debacle, Schmidt got the mother of all performances out of his players against the All Blacks, stunning the world champions with an offensive blitzkrieg in an electrifying opening 40 minutes of rugby, the eventual defeat coming only as a result of Irish naivety and the never-say-die attitude of the Kiwis.
It was less spectacular but more important last March when defeat at Twickenham was followed by a massive win over the Italians, the margin from the 46-7 defeat proving a telling one in a title race eventually decided on points difference.
That is a scoreline which would do very nicely today but is perhaps unlikely. Scotland should be beaten by this Ireland side but their desperation to avoid a championship whitewash may force the visitors to work much harder than they did against a fading Italy a year ago.
That will mean righting the wrongs of last week and executing the plan with accuracy and efficiency. Schmidt can scarcely afford this particular scheme to go ‘agley’.