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Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt. Photo by: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

Ireland must not fall into English trap in rugby Six Nations

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Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt. Photo by: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

The sledging – if that’s the right word – began early on Saturday evening as Irish fans raised a glass to Brian O’Driscoll’s point proven against Warren Gatland and their English counterparts enjoyed their comprehensive win over Scotland many miles away in Edinburgh.

No sooner had the dust settled on Ireland’s dominant 26-3 victory against the Six Nations champions and their Lions coach, than home thoughts turned to abroad -- and London to be precise.

On Saturday, February 22, Ireland travel to Twickenham to face the same England team that racked up 20 points at Murrayfield and kept the Scots scoreless last weekend.

Already, Ireland fans are talking in Triple Crown tongues, such has been their joy at the win over Scotland and the annihilation of Gatland and the Welsh less than a year after he snubbed Dricco in Sydney on Lions duty.

The expectation, meager at the start of Joe Schmidt’s first championship campaign in charge of Ireland, is now rising as fast as the Liffey itself after the heavy rains of an unnatural winter.

Ireland have yet to open up offensively this season say the bar room experts, so the backs will finally be let off the leash in England.

The same porter pundits will gladly tell you that the English were beaten in France by a better team and met no real opposition in Scotland so they will be there for the taking at Twickers.

And already the quest for tickets, for a Triple Crown shootout just three games into the campaign which is unusual by the way, is underway.

History apparently beckons in South West London on the 22nd. Glory awaits Ireland and it will be all the sweeter against the oldest of our mortal enemies.

Ah, if only sport and life were that simple. The reality is that Ireland have yet to be tested as a rugby team of any real substance in this championship.

Yes, Schmidt has made a difference. He has replaced the confidence lost in the final days of the Declan Kidney era — when Ireland lost to Italy a year ago lest we forget — with a new exuberance.

He has instilled belief and desire in his Irish team and he is playing with a tactical sense that bodes well, not just for his team but for his own future as a Lions coaching in waiting as well.

But Schmidt, a former schoolteacher like Kidney before him, knows only too well that two wins don’t a summer make.

Like Kidney, he is fluent in realism, and that is the attribute he will slap on the table when the Ireland team embark on a training camp in Clonmel of all places this week.

The growing sense of expectation among the general populartion has been identified as a real worry by Schmidt, and rightly so. He cannot allow his players to buy into that when they convene in midweek and begin the countdown to a London departure on Thursday of next week.

He must also rein in their willingness to listen to the noises coming from the England camp – and urge them to desist from rising to the bait.

No sooner had England beaten Scotland on Saturday evening than their players and their coach were talking about a war of attrition in the Triple Crown showdown.

English coach Stuart Lancaster remarked on how physically dominant Ireland had been against Wales and Scotland.

His second row Courtney Lawes spoke of all-out war between the two packs and how he won’t be intimated by Paul O’Connell in the second row encounters.

The former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio, whose grandmother was Irish, even spoke of how Lancaster’s side needed to “take out” Johnny Sexton if they are to triumph at Twickenham.

The English camp are being very clever here. They are setting Ireland up for a fall when the Roses meet the Shamrocks, and the boys in green must not fall into their trap.

Ireland against England definitely won’t be decided by any verbal jousting in the build-up to the game. It will be decided by the ability of one pack to master the other and supply the ball needed by offensive players to win matches.

Schmidt, pragmatic as coach, will know exactly what is needed and he will pick a team to do just that. His players must listen to him and him alone in the coming days.

If they do, they can not just beat England but they can go to France for the final game of the season with a real shout at winning a Grand Slam.

Sexton, now based in Paris, spoke of his desire to win the Triple Crown first and the Slam second at an Aer Lingus press event in Dublin on Monday.

For all his medals with Leinster, and there are many, he has never tasted any competition win with Ireland, and he wants that to change.

He has another reason, by the way, to clinch the Grand Slam, and it is one we should all share and wish him the best of luck with.

If Ireland win all their games in this season’s Six Nations, Gordon D’Arcy has promised to shave off the growing beard that looks like a left-over prop from Tom Hanks’ desert island movie.

He made the same promise to Sexton before the Ireland game against New Zealand in the autumn but Ireland lost.

Sexton has the razor at the ready. Let’s hope that once he cuts England, Italy and France down to size, he gets to cut D’Arcy’s beard off. The Irish nation deserves that much at least.
 
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

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