It’s just over two weeks since the country let out a sigh of relief as the final whistle blew in Twickenham which meant Ireland were 6 Nations champions. The game, and whole day in fact, will go down as one of the most nerve-racking and exciting in Irish sporting history. But two weeks on, when the nerves have settled and the excitement has died down, what does it all mean for Irish rugby?
It’s the first Irish team to successfully defend the 6 Nations title since 1949 and they’re being strongly tipped to take the World Cup by storm. However we must not get ahead of ourselves because there’s a lot to be done before September 18.
To go forward, you must first go back to see what brought you to this position. That’s why it’s important for Joe Schmidt and his backroom staff to study every tiny detail of the 6 Nations. It was clear going into the tournament that there was a plan for every game that was pulled off the majority of the time.
Generally Ireland stuck to their guns and bar a slip up against Wales, it worked. These plans came to be thanks to hours and hours of studying the opposition and knowing their strengths and weaknesses. As you play the same opposition time and time again, you start to feel their rhythm and see the game the way they see it.
One of the main criticisms of the 6 Nations is that the tournament is held so often the teams know each other so well. Ireland won’t have the same knowledge of the Southern Hemisphere teams, which could cause them problems. That means it’s up to Schmidt and his players never to take their eyes off the teams that come next. “Taking it one game at a time” is a favourite cliché among coaches but, for Ireland, it’s one they should stick by.
With the tournament the best part of five months away and only four international games in that time, the club game is going to be significant. The Irish provinces are somewhat struggling at the moment in relation to their usual lofty expectations.
Connacht are the only team to come on leaps and bounds since last year while Ulster and Munster and drifting aimlessly from game to game. Leinster still have a foothold in Europe but with a tough away day at Toulon ahead, their European dreams could be coming to an end.
It’s in the interest of the whole country that the provinces have a strong finish to the season. There’s a lot of rugby to be played but if the teams can go on a winning run and stay injury free, then it’ll set up the national side for success.
One positive is that there is time. Now is the time when these problems can be identified and fixed. If we keep playing as we are doing, then there’s no doubt we can take a few scalps, and maybe even go all the way.
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