If Andy Farrell thinks like Dave Kilcoyne in terms of staying next-job focused then do not expect wholesale changes this afternoon when the Ireland head coach names his team to face Italy in Rome on Saturday.
Having only recently returned from a four-month spell on the sidelines due to ankle injury and then missed the Guinness Six Nations clash with France after straining a calf muscle on his comeback for Ireland against Wales, the Munster prop refuses to look further ahead than his next training session.
So although the 32-year-old believes there is plenty more in the tank beyond his 41st Test cap this weekend at Stadio Olimpico, and that he hopes to succeed his slightly older rival Cian Healy as Ireland’s first choice in the number one jersey, the Limerick man knows better than to plan too far ahead and certainly not the next World Cup two years hence.
“There’s always chat about the World Cup. I just think it’s madness sometimes looking that far ahead in rugby,” Kilcoyne said.
“Even that first game back (in August) with me and RG (Snyman both injured for Munster) after seven minutes, you’re gone. It’s something you can’t control, a freak injury, so I think if you’re looking towards World Cups sometimes, you’re taking your eye off the ball.
“International rugby is very much week on week, you’ve got to leave that to the coaches. They obviously have their plan in place, they’ve got a plan, they’ve got a succession plan with lads they want to see in and out.
“But for the players, if you’re looking at a World Cup well then you’ve lost the moment there. You’ve just got to be fully focused on the weekend and on your job because it’s too important and it comes at you too quick.
“You’ve got to concentrate on training today, we have plays for the weekend that we have to try and use to upset this Italy team. That’s for us and if a player isn’t dialled in and focused on his training that day and on how he’s going to improve … I had mistakes that I made yesterday that I needed to remedy for today and if you don’t remedy them then you get them wrong at the weekend and then there is no World Cup, there is no next week.
“So you can totally get lost looking at it that way.
“Coaches have a different mindset to players, we are very much day on day and preparing for the weekend.”
After two defeats in a row in this 2021 Guinness Six Nations, though, Farrell may be very much of the next-job mindset as they look to get a first win on the board.
They badly need victory and Italy represent the best chance of achieving that ahead of a trip to Murrayfield on March 14, and the visit of England to Dublin six days later.
Kilcoyne could feature in a starting front row that also sees Tadhg Furlong return for the first time in 12 months at tighthead with Healy and Andrew Porter moving to the bench. It would be the loosehead’s ninth Test start, his only previous Six Nations start coming in the same fixture two years ago.
Yet having fallen short at home to France last time out in the absence of half-backs Conor Murray and captain Johnny Sexton, both could return to the starting line-up in place of Jamison Gibson-Park and Billy Burns respectively, though if there are to be changes at 9 and 10, the Irish management could mix and match, pairing Gibson-Park with Sexton with Craig Casey getting a chance to make his debut off the bench.
Farrell has a conundrum to solve in the second row, from where Iain Henderson captained Ireland in the home defeat to France in the absence of both Sexton and James Ryan. With the latter fit again following his concussion, there is a choice between three in-form locks that may be solved by moving Tadhg Beirne to the back-row with Peter O’Mahony suspended and Caelan Doris sidelined by concussive symptoms.
Whoever starts, Kilcoyne is aware of the need for a performance that shows Ireland are moving in the right direction.
“We have a huge belief in the squad that we’re really building something here. I wasn’t playing in the France game, but looking at the first half of the Wales game, there was some really good passages I thought where I thought our phase shape was very good and these are things the whole squad has belief in.
“People are talking about that France team being one of the top teams in the world and it was a one-score game. I think Ireland are doing a lot of good stuff and we fully believe in the gameplan here.
“There are definitely things we want to progress in our game. Faz and all the coaches, they back us to play, they back us to back ourselves to make decisions on the pitch and I think we’ve a squad here who are getting to that level that can fulfil that.”
Meanwhile, Scotland’s clash with France on Sunday will go ahead as planned in Paris, despite the Covid-19 outbreak in Les Bleus squad.
After a fresh round of negative test results, the Six Nations has given the game the green light.