As difficult as defeat is to swallow for an Ireland side so used to being on the right side of the competitive ledger, the bruising loss to England must be digested very quickly.
Joe Schmidt’s side are naturally looking to bounce back with a bang against Scotland at Murrayfield this Saturday afternoon but although history under the current head coach suggests the right response is found to a setback more often than not, there will be a number of boxes to tick in the Irish camp this week if last season’s Grand Slam winners are to get their Guinness Six Nations title defence back on track in round two.
Assistant coach Greg Feek said as much on Tuesday as Ireland attempted to turn the page while the media echoed the general public in needing to further explore the reasons behind the poor performance in Dublin last Saturday that ended with a first home defeat in the championship since February 2012, Declan Kidney’s final season at the helm.
Stop feeling sorry for ourselves, identify the reasons for defeat, fix them and move on to the next game, was essentially the message from the Ireland management and with good reason, given the calibre of opposition coming up this weekend.
“It’s too late now, part of it is coming back to being Irish, being Ireland and playing like we have done,” Feek said of what needed to be done. “There were parts at the weekend we didn’t show that focus. But with all due respect, England played well.
“We can’t undo what happened. All we can do now is focus on our accuracy and preparation for this week, that’s our sole focus. The players know what we need to work on and we’ve only got a couple of training runs to come, so you just get what you need to get right done.”
As the accompanying panel of comeback results suggests, Ireland more often than not have the know-how to rebound from Six Nations setbacks. Of the six defeats suffered since Schmidt’s championship debut in February 2014, five have been followed by victories.
Only once have Ireland slipped to back-to-back defeats, during the injury-hit, post-World Cup campaign of 2016. The only other successive defeats sustained by Schmidt’s sides came in his second and third games to Australia and New Zealand in November 2013, the 2015 World Cup warm-ups against Wales and England, and the second and third Tests in South Africa the following summer.
More recently, outside the Six Nations windows, a revenge-fuelled All Blacks defeat in November 2016, even more physically brutal than the one England delivered last weekend, was immediately put to bed with a win over the Australians.
And Ireland rebounded admirably last summer when beaten in the opening Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane, winning the next two in Melbourne and Sydney to take a first series win since 1979.
Annoyance at losing last Saturday will surely have a part to play in motivating this squad as they prepare for the Scots, but Keith Earls warned it cannot be the sole motivator as he gave an insight to the process of picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and starting all over again.
“There’s nothing good when it’s fuelled by anger,” said Earls of the art of rebounding. “We’ve had a good look at Scotland already and now it’s up to looking after ourselves.
“We’ve put the disappointment behind us now, we’re all big enough to do that and I think we’ve to get more accurate with our own plays and our own detail and try not to be second to everything this week.”
For Irish supporters there is hope, and for the squad itself, the comfort that this is just a temporary reversal of fortunes. That Ireland have worked so hard and beaten too many good teams over the last two years that one defeat will not undo everything.
“Yeah definitely, there’s definitely no panic,” said lock James Ryan. “I don’t think we were that far away, really, I think there were just a couple of passages where we made a few mistakes and kind of let them into the game.
“But there’s certainly no panicking. We definitely trust our process and all that, and we’re looking to make things right this week.”
Six Nations losses under Schmidt… and how Ireland responded
The first championship loss of the era, as Ireland let slip a 10-3 lead early in the second half, but Schmidt has the last laugh as his side finish champions, hammering Italy on the rebound and edging out the English on points difference with a final-round 22-20 win in Paris.
Paul O’Connell’s 100th cap ends in defeat, but the captain lifts the trophy a week later at Murrayfield, as Ireland turn on the turbochargers to finish champions on a thrilling Super Saturday.
The only time Schmidt has lost back-to-back games in the Six Nations and it comes after an opening home draw with Wales as the World Cup injury blight takes its toll. Victory eventually comes at the expense of Italy before a third-place finish is salvaged on the final day with a win over Scotland in Dublin.
Again, it’s the Italians on the receiving end, this time at Stadio Olimpico, as Ireland atone for an opening-day shock at Murrayfield, victims of a slow start and a clinical Scottish backline.
That Ireland eventually claimed second place is largely due to the comeback performance against double Grand Slam-chasing England that followed a Friday night fail to Warren Gatland’s Welsh. Wasted opportunities in the Wales 22 and sloppy defence in their own cost Ireland dearly, but the rebound was magnificent, an angry yet effective demolition of English ambitions led by late call-up Peter O’Mahony.
A repeat of this performance would do Ireland very nicely in Scotland as they bid to get their title defence back on track.