Monday 20 January 2020

Ireland's shot at some payback

Schmidt has great chance to mend broken dreams

Peter O’Mahony at Marks & Spencer’s announcement of a programme of initiatives to mark their 40 years in Ireland
Peter O’Mahony at Marks & Spencer’s announcement of a programme of initiatives to mark their 40 years in Ireland

'Ireland were almost on top of the world as recently as six short months ago.

They were surfing the crest of a wave on the back of their November knockout of New Zealand - the jewel in the crown a four-game clean sweep.

The arguments were raging on the airwaves over whether the number one spot could be theirs by the end of the Six Nations.

The blast of Jerome Garces first whistle was a sign of what was to come from dogged, dominant England at the Aviva on February 2.

The English bulldog mentality was used to subdue and, ultimately, submit the Irish (32-20) with something to spare.

There is a solid argument to be made that Ireland never really recovered from the blows they took from Billy Vunipola and company.

The ripple-effect was there in the patchy, winning performances against Scotland (22-13) and Italy (26-16).

It was at this point, three weeks later, that coach Joe Schmidt would reflect on how Ireland were still struggling to find their form.

"I think they can get a little frustrated and then try too hard," he said.

"When they try too hard, it doesn't go well for them and then they start to lose a bit of confidence.

"We always talk about going forward. Sometimes you've got to take a step back and take a deep breath and not panic.

"I think the players were a bit broken by the fallout from the England game and then suddenly they start to question themselves.

"I think the coaching staff, it's our job to re-energise the group and reignite the confidence."

From there, Ireland took a solid step forward against France (26-14) only to take two back in folding to Wales (25-7) in Cardiff.

Five months on from the last week of the Six Nations, England were in the same frame of mind to prevent Wales from becoming the official number one nation in the world at Twickenham on Sunday.

They did it by taking that same fist-pumping aggression into and through Warren Gatland's men.

Ireland will go to Twickenham for their second pre-season test match on Saturday week.

Eddie Jones has already put all 31 of his cards on the table, in naming his official squad for the World Cup.

Schmidt can fix most of what was broken in February with one almighty showing in London.

"Yeah, look, if we can put in a good performance, that's what we're looking for," said Peter O'Mahony yesterday.

"You're not gonna win or lose a World Cup in two weeks' time, but you want to use these games to prepare as best you can.

"Twickenham, and England, you don't get much bigger than that.

"You want to perform and win and put your best foot forward."

It would be about time.

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