The strength of the England side awaiting Ireland this Saturday at Twickenham was enough to quickly get any minds wandering post-World Cup squad selection back on track and focused on the size of the challenge ahead.
Kudos to those who made Joe Schmidt’s final 31-player squad for England 2015 but the below-par performance in defeat at home to Wales last Saturday and the prospect of meeting the hosts at full strength this weekend in the final pre-tournament Test for both sides means there was neither time nor inclination for celebration in the Ireland camp.
“There was a bit of excitement over the weekend,” second row Devin Toner said of waiting for the selection news, “obviously, it was a bit nerve-wracking on Sunday, waiting for the email to come in.
“I suppose I refreshed it about 50 times but once it came through, I was delighted and then there was a bit of excitement coming in yesterday, but then it was back to the grindstone and focusing on England because we’ve obviously got a massive test coming this week.”
Further sobering Toner’s mood was the impact of the powerhouse performance put in against Wales by pack-mate Iain Henderson, whose try-scoring effort lifted him above the more standard fare being offered by his team-mates.
“For the watching Toner, there came the feeling that his comfortable second-row partnership with captain Paul O’Connell forged over the past two successful Six Nations campaigns was now under severe threat.
“I’ve said it before, the competition is massive for places and obviously Iain had a pretty good game. He took his try very well and Donnacha (Ryan) did well in that first game against Wales, when he came off the bench... and obviously Paulie as well. The competition is massive in the second row and if I get selected this week, I’ll have a massive job.”
The onus is now on Ireland to right the wrongs of that performance against the Welsh, who bossed Toner’s comrades at the breakdown, lineout and maul, forcing Ireland onto the back foot and into double figures with their penalty count.
“The main thing that hurt after that was our discipline,” Toner said. “It was not at the standard that we hold ourselves to, so obviously that’s one of the main things we’re going to try to rectify this week.”
So too the maul, Wales’s sole try in their 16-10, ironically given their coach Warren Gatland’s barbs about Ireland’s narrowness in attack, coming from a five-metre lineout drive.
Twice Ireland collapsed it and then under a final warning from referee Craig Joubert, they conceded the five points.
Their success has caused concern, with Toner saying: “It’s the first 5m try we’ve given up. We pride ourselves on not doing it, but one of the things that helps us there is our discipline. If we hadn’t given up those penalties, they wouldn’t have kicked to the corners and they wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.
“It stems from that too, we need to be able to know that we can keep them out without giving away penalties and we didn’t do it.
“At the weekend, we got too close to them as they were coming down so we gave a bit of momentum to them, so the key to that is to either get them on the deck as quickly as you can or push them towards the sideline or disrupt them a bit. We didn’t do it.”
With a big, strong and experienced England pack set to put Ireland to the test once more on Saturday, no wonder forwards coach Simon Easterby had his game face on early in the week.
“There was excitement at the beginning of this week and now there’s the focus on England and we’re not looking past that,” Easterby said.
“We came up short in a couple of areas against Wales and that’s hurt a few players and it hurt me as well.
“There’s no better team to step up and put a few things right going into a World Cup than going over to Twickenham and playing the English.”
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