Georgia provide learning opportunities for Ireland to ease growing pains 

The Eastern Europeans have been beaten 40-0 by England and 18-0 by Wales in their two previous outings
Georgia provide learning opportunities for Ireland to ease growing pains 

Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan training earlier in the week. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The toughest examination of the autumn may be over for Andy Farrell’s inexperienced squad but that does not mean school’s out this weekend, even if tomorrow’s Test against Georgia is the easiest class on the timetable.

Certainly the head coach will want to see lessons learned from the numerous mistakes made at Twickenham last Saturday in an 18-7 defeat to England way more emphatic than the scoreline suggests.

A victory to end the Autumn Nations Cup group stage on a high and secure at least second place seems to be well within even this mix-and-match Ireland team’s capabilities.

Georgia, like Fiji in the opposite pool, have yet to trouble the scoreboard operators in this eight-nation tournament but then again the Pacific Islanders have seen all three of their games cancelled due to Covid-19 cases in their camp. 

The Eastern Europeans have been beaten 40-0 by England and 18-0 by Wales in their two previous outings and are on their own journey towards respectability.

Ireland are travelling along a different road altogether, one Farrell hopes will restore them to the global game’s elite he helped them reach under Joe Schmidt from 2016 to 2018.

It took his predecessor three years of squad-building and one disappointing World Cup exit in 2015 to get there and after just 12 months and seven Test matches, it is far too soon to be judging the new man at the helm.

Last Saturday's Twickenham experience, allied to last month's Six Nations loss in Paris, are painful reminders of the size of the task but if the post-review noise from the Ireland squad this week is to be taken seriously, the belief inside the camp is that the gulf of Test rugby's biggest guns need not be too giant a leap for this developing player group.

Farrell described the current phase of his rebuild as “growing pains” and that his squad was paying “the price of inexperience” for those aforementioned setbacks.

Tomorrow’s outing at Aviva Stadium is another opportunity to channel those chastening experiences into positive ones and for Farrell to continue growing the depth within his squad.

He believes last week’s loss to England will prove invaluable if his players can learn from the discomfort felt under the pressure applied by the Six Nations champions.

Top of his list for this weekend is possessing clarity under duress when deciding what to do next in any given situation.

“I think one of the main things we talk about and reflect on is, everyone outside the circle always talks about, in big games, about physicality and sometimes physicality can take over your mindset and you’re not calm enough to be able to see what the game is throwing at you,” Farrell said.

“Hundred per cent, I thought we were physical, I thought we were courageous at times actually but sometimes I thought that got in the way of our calmness, to be able to see the opportunities and be able to execute on those opportunities.

“That’s what top-level rugby is all about, we’re talking about the top two percenters in world rugby, to be able to go to Twickenham and deliver, you’ve got to (have) an all-court game and that’s being able to be calm and communicate properly and therefore play at the right tempo that you’re able to execute at.

“Because the reality is that in those top two percenters of the game I’m talking about — if you get four chances, you certainly have to nail three of them, don’t you? Seventy-five per cent you should be nailing at that level and that’s what we need to get to.”

This is a game in which Farrell will want to see even higher levels of execution though he was respectful of a Georgian side with plenty of overseas experience, particularly in the French Top14 and Pro D2.

Asked what he thought of a team currently being coached by former France hooker Sebastien Bruno and Ulstermen Neil Doak and David Humphreys, the Ireland boss said: “I suppose everything that everyone thinks that Georgia is going to bring.

They love a maul and a scrum and a breakdown and being very combative in any of the collision work, so we’re 100% expecting that.

“With the half-backs as well, we know they can play a varied game. We’ve seen in their last couple of games in poor weather, even the ambition they’ve shown within those games has been nice to see, so we know they want to play with ball in hand and want to attack us.

“We’re expecting something a little bit different probably to what we’ve seen over those last couple of games against England and Wales.”

Irish supporters will be hoping the same applies to their side.

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