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Saturday 3 December 2016

Brent Pope: Ireland need to get back winning habit

3 August 2015; Ian Madigan, Ireland, during squad training. Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
3 August 2015; Ian Madigan, Ireland, during squad training. Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Now that Joe Schmidt has finally nailed down the 31 players that he his bringing to the Rugby World Cup - not without some controversy - he needs to bring this team together and try to get a win over England tomorrow.

I don't care what other pundits say, winning becomes a habit, as does losing for that matter, and it's as much about the psychology of a winning performance as anything else.

Like England, who lost so badly to France in Paris two weeks ago, Ireland also need a win, in an effort to build on confidence and momentum going into a world cup where public expectation for this Irish team has never been higher.

Why would the Irish coach be any different to any other coach in the world? All Black coach Steve Hansen is continually talking about the need to constantly build on a winning mentality.

Welsh coach Warren Gatland said after his team's win in the Aviva how vital it was to team morale, and that there would be a noticeable skip in the step of his players at training this week.

Why should it be any different for Ireland? The habit of winning tight games gets into players' subconscious, just the same way that losing does.

That is why you often hear of teams going on winning or losing streaks, and when games become tight the players that can hold that winning picture or emotion are in a much place better mentally to win.

The main reason that Ireland lost to the All Blacks in 2013 was not related to actual physical performance. After all, they had led the Kiwis for 99.9% of that match, and it was just that for a split second in the last minute Ireland players found themselves out of their comfort zone.

Looking back now they would have done so many different things and won that match, even if Johnny Sexton had made that kick Ireland would have won, simply because they would have believed they would - top two inches.

If Ireland do go into the world cup having lost the last two games against the so called ranked nations, namely England and Wales, it could sow the slightest doubt in some of the lesser experienced players' minds (17 of this squad have never played in a world cup) about going into the next big game, namely the crucial game against France which will probably dictate it Ireland get an easier quarter-final draw or not.

Slightest Doubt

And it only takes that slightest bit of doubt at this stage to derail plans.

In a nutshell, a good Irish performance and hopefully a win against England is still very important, despite having no real early bearing on the pool stages of the RWC. Some of Schmidt's squad also need some valuable game time especially props Cian Healy, Nathan White and world cup bolter Tadrag Furlong, the latter two players having only three international caps between them.

It is important that we see if Furlong can, as reputed, prop on both sides of the scrum if required, otherwise Ireland have three specialist tight heads.

Schmidt may also take the chance to have a look at Ian Madigan at scrumhalf off the bench at some stage, although one presumes this experiment will be left until the softer games against Canada or Romania.

This weekend will be tough, and you would have to say that England are fielding a particularly strong side, nearly at full strength.

Their pack is powerful, despite their licking in Paris, and includes big No 8 Ben Morgan who on his day can be destructive with ball in hand.

Morgan will be eager to put a couple of season's injury behind him, and put the heat on the incumbent back row that didn't fire a shot against France.

Captain and open side flanker Chris Robshaw is also under some pressure after it seems that England will go into the world cup without a specialist open side flanker, leaving Toulon's Steffan Armitage behind despite huge public support.

Brad Barritt partners Jonathan Joseph in what looks to be England's first choice centre partnership, while the quick but defensively weak winger Johnny May will be targeted by Ireland's kicking game.

What do we need to see from Ireland?

We need more creativity and line breaks from the backline, more contesting of the loose ball especially in the wider channels, much better discipline - especially at the rucks - and then Ireland will need to cope with the more physical pick-and-go game that other nations will surly test them with in a few weeks time.

It will be an interesting duel, where both coaches will be looking for all the positives they can get.

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