How do you stand out by fitting in? This is the quandary that faces players across all sports when they are looking to make a name for themselves.
Plenty among Joe Schmidt’s squad will have to strike that awkward balance in Cardiff on Saturday.
This is now-or-never time for some of those who will be handed playing time at the Principality Stadium given the deadline for World Cup squad submissions is this Monday coming.
Schmidt has already spoken about how Sunday will be set aside for management deliberations on who will stay and who will go.
That should concentrate minds in the Welsh capital.
“It does,” said Munster prop John Ryan who is odds-on to start and add to the 40 minutes he banked off the bench in the first warm-up against Italy, “but again we learnt a big lesson about playing as a team (in Twickenham).
We’d always be about fitting in. Obviously lads are vying for positions, it’s the last chance saloon for some boys and so we’re going to go out and try and fit into the system and get a performance.
“If you execute your basics well, if you stick to your scrum, ruck, maul, that’ll go a long way in terms of selection across all the positions.”
Ryan might be right. Ireland were so bad against England last week that an ability to get the basics right – a functioning lineout and textbook tackling chief among them — would represent a quantum leap for a side desperately in need of a confidence boost as the World Cup approaches.
The Munster man was one of those whose stock rose simply by looking on from the stands five days ago but chats with those unfortunate enough to be in the firing line produced the feeling that Ireland let the game get on top of them.
Errors made were compounded by others. Such a domino effect was regular enough for Irish teams until the Schmidt era began but this was unrivalled on the Kiwi’s watch and there seems to have been a sense of shock that this could actually have happened to a side that was a win away from a No.1 world ranking.
There has been no wailing and gnashing of teeth. The video reviews might have made for torturous viewing but players came away from them all with confirmation that so much of what they did wrong was basic and eminently fixable.
The only problem is we’ve been hearing that all year.
“At this level, there’s no shouting. Everyone knows the mistakes they made. People will look back themselves, coaches have looked at the footage, everyone is looking at self-improving, rectifying their own mistakes and then it’s reiterated to the group as well, so we learn as a group.
“There’s nothing heated as a group,” Ryan explained. “It’s all calculated and about trying to find those little areas we can get better.
“Obviously, we can get miles better but it’s a case of applying ourselves and getting back out this week and doing the basics well.”
Like Peter O’Mahony, Ryan was dismissive of the get-out-of-jail-free card that suggested they had put in an uncommonly strenuous training week in Portugal prior to the game in London.
Same goes for the fact that so many were playing their first game all season. Rustiness is one thing, that meltdown was another thing entirely.
Cardiff needs to be a new beginning.
These kind of losses come once in a blue moon. That’s the biggest loss that we’ve had and it’s not something that we’re going to continue. There’s a bit of ownership from the players as well, the coaches are obviously facility (sic) for that.
“Training the last two days has been brilliant, there’s been a serious clip to it. A bit of edge to it as well.
“It’s a case that we need to get out there and prove that we’re a top three in the world team. That’s how it is at the moment.”