It is a classic law of physics, that for every reaction there is a reaction. And after Ireland’s poor performance against Australia last weekend there is a steely determination within the camp that there will be a positive response when the All Blacks come calling to the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.
For Mike Ross, it is as pre-determined as the apple that fell on Isaac Newton’s noggin.
“It’s like a cup final and often they bring the best out of you, particularly when you need a reaction from the Australian game and the world champions are coming to us and going for an undefeated year,” the Ireland tighthead said before declaring: “I’d be confident that we’re going to have a good performance this weekend.”
Ross, 33, laid it all out there, the size of the task of transforming a performance against the Wallabies that was as disjointed and lacklustre as you are likely to see into what is required to topple majestic and unbeaten this year New Zealand off their proud perch.
Part of the motivation for that leap, he said, is the need to repay a debt to Joe Schmidt and his assistants Les Kiss and John Plumtree for failing to convert progress under the new regime on the training pitch into the Test arena.
“Yes, I think we do (owe it to the coaches) and if we don’t we’re going to get our arses paddled fairly hard, especially this weekend,” Ross said. “So the onus is on us to play the almost perfect game because that’s what it’s going to take to win.
“Things have to go our way and set-piece is a major part of that and we’ve been working bloody hard on that.”
The hard work is borne of the deep disappointment shared by coaches and players alike from the Australian defeat, with Ross speaking of irritation and frustration at the failure of the set-piece, his domain, to establish a platform for Ireland’s backs.
“It’s one thing to lose when you’re playing to the best of your ability, another thing to lose when you haven’t.
“We’ve taken what we can from last weekend and moved on because there’s no point dwelling on it but at the same time you don’t forget the lessons it taught you. You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself because there’s no better team in world rugby for kicking you when you’re down.”
Ross knows that from bitter experience, having played on the tour to New Zealand in the summer of 2012, when a sound beating in the first Test led to heartbreaking near miss in the second, only for the exhausted and battered Irish to feel the force of Kiwi wrath with a 60-0 hammering in the third.
“They smacked us hard enough in the first Test and then the second Test we saw they were human after all. Then the third Test was probably a bridge too far for us.
“You don’t want to be making excuses but it was a long season, for some lads it was their 54th week after a World Cup year. New Zealand’s pride was probably a little bit bruised after the second Test and we’d shipped a few more injuries. It’s very fine margins at this level and they’re really good enough to punish that.
“They scored a few quick tries and we were chasing after it and you can’t do that with them because they just keep picking you off for more points.”
That second Test in Christchurch, though, is the positive memory that Ross says is “a useful spur to keep you going”, even if it ended in a 21-19 defeat, courtesy of a late Dan Carter drop goal.
“It felt really good. At the time we went after them. Conor Murray scored a try and they didn’t build a lead on us, they never got out of touch and we kept neck and neck with them. You look at their results and it’s not something that happens to them very often.
“They’re one of the best sides in the world at building a lead and if you can rein them in as England did at the weekend you can give yourself a good chance.
“But at the same time you’ve got to remember what can happen if you don’t get it right.”
The most salutary lesson, as England also discovered last weekend at Twickenham, is that even if you are enjoying dominance in certain areas against the All Blacks, they always have the capacity to rebound when under pressure. You have to maintain 100 per cent concentration and effort.
“You just can’t turn off against them. I remember when England played them last year, they were ahead at half-time and then two quick tries and suddenly they’re chasing the game again. So games can turn in 30 seconds.”
And how Ireland react to that, will be the key.
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