A NEW ERA with a new coach and some fresh faces around the squad, but there is no substitute for games when it comes to implementing a style of play.
Joe Schmidt’s back-line selection has made sure that the players familiar with his favoured patterns and style will be at the heart of most moves.
As Rob Kearney points out, the focus leading up to tomorrow’s opening November Test against Samoa has been defence driven, with a simple familiar play-book for the backs to work from when they have a chance to create.
“There hasn’t been a huge amount of emphasis put on that back-line play,” Kearney said after yesterday’s training session at Carton House.
“We have maybe five or six moves that we know inside out and we stick to those on the day. Coaches haven’t thrown huge amounts of new material at us so it has just been about perfecting the ones that we do have.”
Coaching ticket aside, one aspect that will hopefully be different in this Ireland side tomorrow is that they have a point to prove. Players constantly say ‘you’re only as good as your last game’. So, while the tour of North America may have yielded two wins, the front line internationals who missed out through injury or Lions duty still look back to the Six Nations horror show for the score that needs settling.
Asked whether the results of February and March still hurt eight months on, Kearney said:
“Of course they do. The last game I played for Ireland was a pretty miserable day out in Rome and you never forget about that.
“At the same time it’s important you recognise there is a new feel to the Irish team and a new look, new coaching staff and it’s trying to maybe looking forward a little bit more but also remembering and hanging on to a little bit of hurt that we shall have from last year’s Six Nations.”
Hurt and hopeful expectation; it’s a difficult balance to get right. However, Kearney is intent on striking it just right:
“I think the press are getting mixed messages from players a little bit,” added the fullback. “But just because Eoin Reddan makes a statement like we are building towards next year, it no (way) means we expect to lose these three games.
“Gordon (D’Arcy) saying that all three are a must win maybe a little bit off the mark too – somewhere in between.
“It is very much about performances, these few weeks. Obviously getting a few wins but making sure we can play a brand of rugby that people expect from this team and we start to fulfill our potential a little bit more.
“Unlike the last year or so.”