Scotland v Ireland Saturday: Murrayfield, 2.30pm TV: RTE2, BBC1
After the chaos of Cardiff, Rob Kearney appeared relaxed and confident that this weekend’s Six Nations finale in Edinburgh would reveal the true character of this Ireland team.
The criticism from the loss to Wales has already been absorbed within the walls of the Ireland camp. Too many big name players fell short, too many wrong decisions were made and the attacking game continues to be blighted by bluntness.
The message has been received loud and clear and yesterday Kearney said many of the critiques would be shared internally and that the players had taken them on the chin.
The opinions of outsiders, however, must bounce off the Irish players when compared to the cutting autopsies delivered in house by head coach Joe Schmidt.
With the championship still there to play for this weekend, Kearney pointed out that all of their mistakes from Cardiff were fixable and that points to a solution coming from within — Ireland’s mental capacity to rebound from another Grand Slam opportunity slipping from their grasp.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place. Ten wins out of last 11 games. I think we’re going alright,” insisted Kearney. “This week will be a big test and will give a really strong insight into the group as a whole. How we react after a very disappointing defeat. We’ll see the real Ireland step up this week. A lot of us who under-performed on Saturday know if we get the opportunity to right a lot of those wrongs.”
The possibility of some of those wrongs being addressed by the stroke of Schmidt’s pen when he fills in the names on his team-sheet is a very real possibility. Kearney spoke of a greater fear among the players that some could lose their places, but the Leinster and Lions full back knows that doling out individual disappointment can lead to a collective profit.
“It keeps everyone on their toes. I think every single player has been dropped at some stage in their career. It’s happened to the very best of guys,” said Kearney, who found himself on the periphery of the Test team on the last Lions tour.
“You’ve got new guys coming into the team and they bring a huge amount of energy and excitement because they’re finally getting their chance. The guys who performed under par realise that maybe sometimes they’ve been given a second chance and they really need to pull their socks up. I think when that does happen there can be some positives taken from it too.”
The main sticking point was the inability to break down the crimson wall that was manned by 15 frenzied Welsh men at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday and Kearney strongly believes that the lack of tries scored by Ireland is symptomatic of a trend developing in the Six Nations. “Sometimes you have to look where the other teams are and if you can see there is a little bit of a trend, it eases that frustration a little bit,” he added.
The risk-averse style of play adopted by opposing teams is a contributing factor according to Kearney, the average tries per game in this year’s Six Nations is three in comparison to four last season. But Ireland’s potency in attack has taken a nosedive going from scoring an average of three tries a game in 2014 to one try a game since the turn of the year.
Still, the message you can expect from the camp throughout the week is that Ireland will look to win the game against Scotland first and foremost before giving any thought to points difference which will decide whether or not they defend their title.
However, Kearney argued that in reacting to defeat it can, mentally, “take the shackles off” and although he insists that won’t be fleshed out in a sevens-style gameplan there is an element of all or nothing at play given that it is their last game in the tournament.
“I think any time you get to the last game of a championship you can go and play a bit. When I say that it’s important the wrong perception isn’t picked up here that we’re going to chase this game and we’re going to try and build points, because we’re not,” he added. “But we do know that we have to go out and give this game a right bash.”
The preparations at Carton House this week will at least pass unhindered by injuries or ‘modified training.’ Ireland manager Mick Kearney confirmed that no new injuries had been picked against Wales and that the squad which was named last week would partake fully in this week’s training. It makes the team selection all the more interesting. Schmidt is a keen follower of a player’s form on the training paddock and with a spark needed, particularly in the backline, will he be swayed by Luke Fitzgerald, Felix Jones or Keith Earls?
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