Donnacha O’Callaghan claimed there is life after the big guns as Ireland finally produced the goods this season with an emphatic 32-14 win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Tries from Rory Best, Eoin Reddan, Andrew Trimble and substitute Fergus McFadden proved decisive as Ireland took the Six Nations points on offer.
Injured duo Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell watched from the stands as Ireland proved they can win without them and received a massive confidence boost ahead of this weekend’s trip to play England in London.
It was the first time neither O’Driscoll or O’Connell were available since 2001, but newcomers Peter O’Mahony and Donnacha Ryan got their chance and took it to offer boss Declan Kidney more choice when it comes down to picking his Irish team.
“Sometimes you get a bit frustrated when Brian and Paul are out of the squad because some people seem to think you can’t tie your laces without them,” admitted O’Callaghan.
“When you’re missing two guys of their caliber it gives opponents a bit of confidence. They smell blood in the water and that becomes their focus for the week.
“It’s important that when there’s a bit of a void other people step up and that’s what happened throughout the team against Scotland. It’s good for ourselves to get a result like that.”
Winners in France on Sunday, England are next up for Ireland and will present stiff opposition at Twickenham as O’Callaghan well knows.
“England is a huge ask now. As a player you don’t mind going four games on the bounce but it does take its toll,” he said.
“It’s been a bit unfair on us, but that’s the way it is. It’s always tough after a World Cup year because you pretty much have two seasons in one year.
“We might not see the fallout until the end of the season, but we have bangs and knocks that are unusual for this time of the year.”
Stand-in captain Rory Best got a glimpse of what might have been as Ireland saw off the Scots with the sort of performance that might have made a real difference in the defeat to Wales and the draw in France.
“Unfortunately, that’s sport. You get good days and bad days,” Best said. “Against Wales it was bitterly disappointing but the bottom line is we were six points up with eight minutes to go, at home, and we weren’t able to close that out.”
Kidney was more than pleased with the display and the result. “I am delighted for the players after everything that has been thrown at them in the last six days,” said Kidney.
“We did not panic in the second half. There were times we tried things when maybe the safest thing would have been to kick in the corner, but you cannot knock ambition and that is the way we want to play.
“We will enjoy tonight but will not get carried away because we know we have to be in Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Ireland: Kearney, Bowe, Earls, D’Arcy, Trimble, Sexton, Reddan, Healy, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, Ryan, Ferris, O’Mahony, Heaslip. Replacements: Cronin for Best 54 mins, O’Leary for Reddan, 54 mins, O’Gara for D’Arcy, 54 mins, Jennings for O’Mahony 62 mins, McFadden for Kearney 74 mins, Court for Ross 78 mins, McCarthy for O’Callaghan 78 mins.
ULSTER flanker Stephen Ferris knows Ireland will have to step up a gear or two when they meet England in London on Saturday.
Ferris was one of the stars of the show when Ireland beat Scotland last weekend, but England also impressed as they won away to France on Sunday.
“I’ve been fortunate to win with Ireland at Twickenham and I know that you have to be on top of your game to get a result,” said Ferris.
“We are improving week on week and are happy with our set-piece, but we know England are strong there. They won’t concede any soft tries, like Scotland did, either.
“We have to chase the box-kicks down hard and get behind them. Rob Kearney is going to be busy in the air again.”
Ireland did up the ante from the Welsh and French games as they defeated the Scots and Ferris is looking for more of the same this weekend.
He added, “In the last couple of weeks I’ve done a bit more defending than I would have liked but that’s the way it goes.
“I’ve put my body on the line and got into the defensive line, reading it well. Overall we defended well and apart from that soft try Scotland didn’t look like breaking us down.
“Since the criticism we took after the Wales game we’ve defended pretty well. We’ve worked hard on it. Personally and as a team I felt we have improved defensively.”
COACH Declan Kidney has made just one change to the Ireland team for Saturday’s big clash with England at Twickenham as fit-again Sean O’Brien returns to the pack.