No pep talks or pick-me-ups for Ireland’s crestfallen players, as they prepare for Saturday’s trip to Scotland aiming to bounce back from their Grand Slam-ending defeat to Wales.
That was the message from head coach Joe Schmidt and captain Paul O’Connell as the Irish squad left Cardiff yesterday, reminded that though their 10-match unbeaten run is at an end, there remains the RBS 6 Nations title to play for when they visit Murrayfield in six days.
Not only did Ireland miss out on a record-breaking 11th consecutive victory in their 23-16 defeat at Millennium Stadium, the Welsh win blew the championship race wide open, leaving three teams level on six points with one game each to play and only points difference separating them. Wales lie third going to Italy, having scored 21 points fewer than Ireland, who trail England on points difference by just four.
The English, though, play last next Saturday, against France at Twickenham and are the new title favourites after seeing off the Scots at home.
Now is not the time, therefore, for defending champions Ireland to feel sorry for themselves and there will be no patience or pity from coach nor captain as they aim to get their championship campaign back on track.
“Guys are very disappointed, but it’s not up to Joe or me or anyone to lift anyone else, it’s up to individuals to lift themselves,” O’Connell said, having completed his 100th Irish appearance on the losing side. “We’ve another chance to play for Ireland next week, a chance at a championship. We’ll look at this game and prepare for Scotland. I don’t think it’s going to be any different or that there will be any talk of lifting ourselves. One thing about losing is that you just want to get out there and play again as soon as you can.”
Schmidt concurred and will look to improve on Saturday’s performance, when Ireland fell 12-0 behind after just 13 minutes and were then unable to turn the lion’s share of possession into anything other than a penalty try.
“I think it is something they will do themselves, but I am not going to make an effort to do that over the next four or five hours, there is almost a period where you have to go through a fair bit of hurt, because you know these guy take representing their country very seriously,” Schmidt said.
“They work incredibly hard on and off the pitch to be as good as they can be and I know how devastated they are, as I share the time with them as they put it in.
“By the time we get back tomorrow and get out to our training venue and start to look at a couple of things that we did well and we have to do better... you turn the page quickly because you want to get back out and do it, you want to right some wrongs that weren’t good enough today.”
Having dismissed the maxim that more is learned in defeat than victory, Schmidt was asked if Saturday’s defeat could be a blessing in disguise.
“I’ll take that one. I’d love it if that’s the case, if it is a blessing in disguise. It’s a pretty miserable one at the moment, but if we can get some sort of silver lining out of it, without extending and mixing metaphors, I think that’s part of the challenge for the coaching team and the players now, on the back of what we did today, on the back of what we’ve done in the championship so far, try to see what we can deliver in the final game.
“We didn’t quite get enough things right. But if there’s a silver lining and we get a little more forensic in what we’re doing, but at the same time, I think what we don’t want to do is suddenly lose our confidence. We didn’t beat some really good teams because we were no good at what we were doing.
“I know the question was asked: ‘Do you go back to the drawing board?’ I think that’s an extraordinary question in the context of having lost one game in our last 11 games, because something that was up on the drawing board before was working okay.
“So, we’ve just got to make sure we take the best parts out of that, maybe rub a little bit out and add a little bit here and there, and try to construct something that works in Murrayfield.”
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