Declan Kidney believes the attitude of his current crop of players is as good as any squad he has managed and that team spirit bodes well for the coming tournament, he suggested.
The Ireland head coach also said his players have responded to 60-0 summer drubbing in New Zealand by taking on extra responsibility.
Speaking ahead of their 6 Nation’s opener against Wales on February 2, Kidney said:
“These fellas are training as well as any group that I have seen.”
“They said in August that they will deal with it from day one and they have been doing everything that they have been asked and a little bit more. That just became infectious.”
A new look Ireland squad is expected to take to the field in little over a week and the coach hinted that there might be more of the attacking play which marked victory over Argentina in November.
“I’ve always been a believer that the job is to take a look at the players you have and come up with a game plan that best suits them.
“You ask them to do what comes naturally to them in the most demanding of atmospheres in a test game. We would always be looking to adapt and evolve our own game and we’ve done that over the last couple of years.”
The Ireland management team have tweaked their timetable this season, bringing players into camp on a Sunday night — one day early.
Kidney says the move has been welcomed by the squad.
“It’s easy to call guys in on a Sunday, it all depends on the attitude they come in with so I can’t speak highly enough of all the lads because there is excitement, there is disappointment, there’s a whole host of emotions (but) they are doing exactly what they said they would do at Christmas.
He added: “Hitting the ground running is all about having time together, whether we have enough time together at that is another thing. Our guys put a huge amount into the Heineken Cup.
“That puts it’s own emotional and physical drain on them. Other lads depending on where they are in the competition, they still played the matches last weekend, but emotionally, if they weren’t in the running for qualification, it mightn’t have taken as much out of them.”
The Ireland coach pointed to the November series as evidence of improvement, but he remains mindful of the youth in his team.
“I think our inexperience probably told (against South Africa). We were 12-3 up at half-time and given all the injuries, there was maybe a thought of: ‘how did we end up in this situation’?
“Then South Africa came out with plan B at the start of the second half and maybe we didn’t have enough experience to realise that’s the way test matches go.
“You can go out with a game plan and in the ideal world it will work for the first 20 minutes in the first half but when you get to half-time, experience will tell you that you have to get yourself right for the second half. But against Argentina I thought we learned a good bit.
“Certainly I thought in the Argentina match our decision makers, the gains from that horrible night in Hamilton.”
Singing from the same hymn sheet as his new captain, Kidney says he expects no easy tests in the coming campaign, dismissing any suggestion the championship was now a two-tier affair.
“I don’t see in the players after every match, and this is what makes the competition spectacular. There is as much demands on them in each of the test matches. In a competition, it’s probably unique in the sense that knowing the score you concede or the score you get in the first five minutes of the competition can actually decide it weeks later.”
Adding: “If you look at instances that happen in these matches, all these games are decided on two or three instances, whether a ball will bounce your way or not bounce your way.”
Asked for his view on the introduction of a possible bonus points system he said:”I think it is something worth looking at but I’m not exactly sure that the four tries and the losing by seven would actually count in a game where one year you are at home three times and the next year you are at home twice.”