It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
Ireland supporters will be hoping their heroes in green have been channelling that showtune this week as they attempt to pick themselves off the floor following their Twickenham horror show and get World Cup preparations back on track today in Cardiff.
A sold-out Principality Stadium sending the Six Nations Grand Slam champions and world number one side on their merry way to Japan whilst paying homage to departing head coach Warren Gatland in his final home game before relinquishing his role post-World Cup is hardly the easiest situation to recalibrate following a chastening roasting by England last weekend.
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt does not need reminding of the pitfalls of such a venture just five months on from his side’s 27-5 defeat here in the final round of the championship. Yet nor will place too much stock in the outcome of this penultimate preparatory fixture in Cardiff this afternoon.
Clearly, after the eight-try to two, 57-15 drubbing at the ruthless hands of England seven days ago, a victory over Wales today would be the perfect antidote but what really matters is to see signs of life in this squad and the desire to right last week’s wrongs, to get back on the front foot and start building for the game that actually counts, against Scotland in Pool A on September 22.
You can understand Schmidt’s frustration, mind, from a group of players under his charge since June 16 but he will be hoping these last 10 weeks of hard graft and meticulous preparation have not been for nothing.
“It’s frustrating. Last weekend was incredibly disappointing for me and everyone else. We weren’t razor-sharp against Italy either. You’re protected by a result but we conceded two tries early in that game that were a little bit sleepy as well.
“There is a degree of disappointment that we haven’t got up and running at any express rate, but it is kind of trying to make sure that we are on an upswing when we get to Japan, not already having hit the peak of what we are doing and starting to taper or getting comfortable.
“We want to be a little bit uncomfortable because Scotland are going to make it thoroughly uncomfortable for us and you saw what they did, what they turned around from a 30-point deficit to a three-point win (against France).
“That’s how fickle sport can be and I guess what it means to you on that particular day. At a World Cup, everybody’s massively up for the day.
It’s once every four years, you’ve got this tiny window to demonstrate your best version of yourself. It’s a real pressure cooker.
So too will be the Principality Stadium this afternoon and the fact neither camp has finalised its final 31-man squad yet with 48 hours to the tournament deadline should provide sufficient extra intensity to the occasion, if any were needed.
Next week’s return fixture in Dublin, Schmidt’s final home game after almost seven years in charge and before stepping down after the World Cup, is likely to see both Ireland and Wales field their full Test sides as they play their final warm-up Tests but today will provide Gatland and Schmidt with one last opportunity to settle the selection arguments among their fringe players, the numbers 24 to 31 that could make or break a World Cup campaign when the injuries and suspensions can come thick and fast with a game every week for potentially seven weeks.
Ireland have to get their lineout functioning once more following six failed attempts at Twickenham and introducing Niall Scannell at hooker for Rory Best hands the Munster man a perfect platform to present himself as a safe pair of hands in both the lineout and scrum, where he is partnered by the familiar faces of provincial team-mates and props Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan.
Safe hands too with the first appearance of the season for James Ryan in the second row while fellow lock Iain Henderson gets the chance to atone for a rough day as lineout leader against England.
And then there is the back row, an all-new combination with plenty of lineout ability to underpin the set-piece effort as Peter O’Mahony switches from blindside to openside flanker to allow Tadhg Beirne to stake his claim as a versatile back-five forward with the number six jersey on his back.
There is provincial familiarity for Beirne and his Munster captain while O’Mahony, who skippers his country today, played at openside for Ireland in the third and deciding 2018 Test victory over Australia in Sydney when his No.8 was Jack Conan, who assumes the role today after CJ Stander was rested.
All three can boost the Ireland effort from out of touch but Schmidt said his new back-row was about more than that as the head coach bids to narrow his loose-forward options.
“Funnily enough it is less about the lineout options as much as all three of them are very capable in the lineout. It was more about just getting guys on the pitch and giving them opportunities really.
“We wanted to give as much certainty at the start of this week as possible because it is one of those weeks where you do need a reaction, you do need to get some confidence into the group as early as possible.”
So much to play for, so much also to aim for and the Ireland reboot must start today.