Coach Declan Kidney knows better than anyone that victory against Wales tomorrow in Cardiff is necessary if Ireland’s RBS Six Nations Championship campaign is to be salvaged.
Conversely he knows that defeat is likely to see his players criticised, his own ability questioned and Irish preparations for the 2011 World Cup in a mess.
An unimpressive 13-11 victory over Italy in Rome was followed by a 25-22 Aviva Stadium defeat by the French who were outscored by three tries to one.
Last time out, Ireland made hard work of beating Scotland 21-18 in Edinburgh where, once again, they ran in three tries — this time without riposte — only to allow the hosts to stay in touch via cheaply-conceded penalties.
This week Kidney has been stressing that rugby is about welding solid defence, within the laws of the game, to productive attack.
His pursuit of the perfect blend goes on and tomorrow in Welsh rugby’s citadel we shall see how much of his chastisement of them for their indiscipline to date in the series has been taken on board by the players. While he does not pretend that Ireland are a side of world-beaters, he is determined that they themselves be a very difficult side to beat.
“There are elements of our game that are going very well and you see patches of play which are quite good. You are always trying to string together that 80-minute performance but realistically the opposition are going to have their good patches and it’s how you ride that out,” Kidney explained.
“It depends on what you call good play, it can be good play in a defensive sense — I’ve seen some very good defensive moments.
“I’ve seen some very good attacking moments, too, so it’s about marrying that together for the 80 minutes. Obviously there have been a few things that have happened in between times that are within our control to fix and if we get those right the jigsaw will come together more. You are always looking for that perfect game.
“We are so far up the ladder, (but) there are another few rungs to go. If we climb another rung or two, I think we will be a difficult side to play against and that’s what we want to make ourselves.”
Wales, like Ireland, have won two of their first three matches. Kidney points out that there has been little between his side and Wales in their past two meetings, both of which Ireland won. He is expecting a close encounter of a third kind tomorrow.
But there is no disguising his personal excitement, his use of adjectives like ‘fantastic’ and ‘brilliant’ totally belying his attempts to play it down.
“I think we are motoring along. We have won two out of three, the other one we lost without being absolutely beaten,” is his low gear initial approach to the subject of the match.
But he quickly starts to push the pedal harder.
“I see the lads in training and they are definitely excited about playing the game,” he continues, quickly moving through the gears. “These are fantastic matches to be involved in. You just to try and keep your emotions on the latch earlier on in the week because that can use up a lot of energy that you are going to need for Saturday.
“To be playing Wales in Wales is a brilliant event and I know how hard these guys (Ireland) are trying. I alluded to it before — you can try too hard. But at the same time we know that we have to go at it 100 per cent. So, it’s a thin edge between really going for it and staying relaxed enough.”
It’s an open secret that there is no love lost between the IRFU and former Ireland coach Warren Gatland, who is Kidney’s Welsh counterpart. Two years ago when Gatland tried to unsettle the Grand Slam-chasing Irish by saying that of all their championship rivals the Welsh players probably disliked Ireland most, it rebounded on him.
This time he has avoided temptation to repeat such thoughts. But ahead of the match he and Kidney have differed publicly on one issue. The Irish coach wants the Millennium Stadium roof kept open. “I wouldn’t mind that. A lot of noise goes out through the roof. A bit of fresh air never did anyone any harm,” Kidney said.
Gatland’s view? “We would like the roof closed,” he said. “That’s going to be potentially an issue. It’s up to them as well.”
Amicable agreement? Improbable. Best open it to allow some of the heat from that Celtic fire to escape . . .