Joe Schmidt has challenged his Ireland players to put thoughts of Japan and the World Cup to the back of their minds and commit to righting the wrongs of Twickenham when they face Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
The 2018 Grand Slam champions suffered a humiliating 57-15 defeat to England in London less than two weeks ago and Schmidt admits that Ireland “took our eye off the ball” for their second warm-up fixture against a home team that looked years ahead of them in terms of fitness and skillset.
“It's funny because last weekend should have been the most important game that we were thinking of and, if I am to be frank, some of those players were not thinking about that game last weekend,” he said when asked if that English beating made this next outing their most important in some time.
“They were thinking about making sure they were 'on the plane' and you can't afford to be looking after yourself and you can't afford to be behind the game like we were last week. So it is the most important game for some time but each week should be the most important one.
I know that's a cliche that we have continually repeated over the last six-and-and-a-half years that I have been involved but it has allowed us to get ahead in games.
“Probably three-quarters of the games we have played we have won and that has been down to a focus on a week-to-week commitment to what is immediately in front of us and not worry about (the opening game against) Scotland in the World Cup.”
Schmidt, as he did when speaking to the press earlier this week, pointed to a heavy-leggedness among his team after their pre-season exertions and he accepted full responsibility for that while adding that such weariness will likely be a fact of life in Japan where the team will have to contend with five- and six-day turnarounds with travel days in between.
“Part of what we are trying to do this year back to Christmas is to try to put ourselves in scenarios where we are under pressure and seeing how well we react and we didn't react nearly well enough last week.”
Schmidt has made made a dozen changes to the side for this latest tip across the Irish Sea and he is confident that the malaise which afflicted the squad for last weekend's fixtures has already been lifted, even if judgement on that can;t be made until the final whistle at the Principality Stadium.
I have seen it lift. I do believe we are in a better place to play rugby now as opposed to prepare to play rugby and there will be evidence of that but, as you said, the confirmation of that doesn't come through until we get to the final whistle on Saturday and we see how players have performed.
W Addison, A Conway, C Farrell, B Aki, J Stockdale, J Carty, K Marmion, D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, John Ryan, I Henderson, James Ryan, T Beirne, P O’Mahony, J Conan. Replacements: R Best, A Porter, T Furlong, D Toner, J Murphy, L McGrath, G Ringrose, D Kearney.