Sean McMahon reporting from Galway
Friday’s open training session at the Sportsground in Galway was supposedly one of the ‘light’ sessions taking place in what is Ireland’s third week of pre-World Cup training.
If this is considered light or easy-going then it provides an indication to just how hard Ireland are working to right the wrongs of their 2019 Six Nations performance.
The players were put through a ‘boot camp’ style session which contained various pods of work. From gruelling assault bike and spin bike workouts to breakdown work where the players were pinned to the ground with tackle bags before getting themselves back on their feet to carry into contact to repeat the process again, you would work up a sweat just watching.
For Joe Schmidt’s side, it’s all about getting into optimum condition for what will be, hopefully from an Ireland perspective, a long stint in Japan in what are expected to be tough conditions in the Far East.
You would also think a level of confidence rebuilding would need to take place as Ireland looked, at times, a very different side during the Six Nations to the one that toppled the All Blacks just a few months earlier.
Unforced errors, slow starts to games and a lack of penetration hampered Ireland during that campaign but Conor Murray, speaking to the media after Friday’s session, believes that the “creases” have already been ironed out.
“I think we’re a really honest group and we learn from our mistakes pretty quickly,” Murray said.
“If you look at the last couple of seasons, this group has been really successful, we’ll realise what didn’t work in the previous Six Nations but I think we’ve ironed those creases out already. After each game that didn’t go to plan, we recognised that, we’ve reviewed it and sorted it out. This group has an awful lot more positive performances to draw on than the few bad ones in the Six Nations just gone.
“Overall, it’s (preseason) been really positive and there’s a fresh feeling amongst the group coming back here getting down to work and I think everyone from players, coaching staff and outside staff is aware of what this group is capable of. I don’t think we’re going to be painted or reviewed based on that Six Nations.
“I think this group has been through an awful lot together. Six Nations titles, massive wins against southern hemisphere opposition to kind of rely on. We know it’s there, it’s just about getting the best out of ourselves.”
Success, such as what Ireland experienced in 2018, can often lead to short memories. There were disappointing performances in a green jersey prior to that ground-breaking year so criticism is nothing new to some of these players.
What is important is how players react to that criticism. Do they go back inside their shell? Do they try too hard to rectify that? From Murray’s perspective, he’s been in the game long enough to know what works for him and that’s to shut out those outside voices.
However, not everyone has the level of experience that the 30-year-old Limerick man has under his belt. What is key then is the ability for players to support each other in times of need. It has worked before and it will work again says Murray.
“Personally, I don’t see an awful lot of media. I’ve learned that over the years, if you play well, they can probably blow you up a little bit too much and if it doesn’t go to plan it can be a bit exaggerated and that’s just the nature of what it is.
“Within our team, we’re realistic about where we’re at and we know how hard people try and how good people can be. When things don’t guy right for fellas or the team as a group, we kind of rally around each other. We’ve been through tough times before, we’ve bounced back and it is a really tight group.
“You can probably see from the outside how tight fellas are and how well fellas get on. It’s a really tight-knit group and I think that’s going to be massive for a stint that could last until November. It’s a really competitive group as well, we drive each other on to get better. A really enjoyable camp to be involved in.”
One of the main lessons from the Six Nations which Ireland are taking on board is how they start games. Especially against England, Ireland started poorly and things unravelled from there. This a key focus for the group and in a competition like the World Cup where the finest of margins will decide the outcome of a game, it needs to be rectified.
“Yeah, certainly, it (slow starts) was a bit of a thing. Putting ourselves under a little bit of pressure at the start of games, particularly that England game. One game at the start of the Six Nations can kind of deflate you for the rest of it. It felt like you were chasing your tail a bit for the remainder of the tournament so (that’s) definitely a focus point.
“There were a few inaccuracy things that we can work on too. The start of a game is massive, especially in a World Cup. When you’re expected to win games, if you give a team a bit of life and they get a bit of belief and momentum, suddenly it turns into a really tough day. It’s about being really clinical and sharp at the beginning and throughout.”
Ireland’s biggest game of the World Cup pool stages is their opener against Scotland and from that point, there is no more room for slow starts.
Canterbury and the IRFU have today unveiled the new Irish Rugby World Cup 2019 team and supporter range. Headlined by a jersey like no other incorporating advanced technology and cutting-edge design, the range will be worn by the Ireland Rugby team in Japan as the team competes on the world stage.
The new Ireland Rugby World Cup 2019 range is available from shop.irishrugby.ie and canterbury.com.