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Ireland rugby team must now front up to the challenge

By Ruaidhri O’Connor

As the euphoric fans made their way out of the Aviva Stadium stands on Saturday night to toast a famous win, down in the dressing-room the recriminations were beginning.

Sure, Ireland had just beaten the world's No 2 team four weeks after the Boks had downed the All Blacks, but the pack had been in for a torrid evening.

There will be no resting on laurels when the scrum goes backwards and the lineout malfunctions. It's not a bad place to be for Joe Schmidt and his coaching team.

Tighthead Mike Ross yesterday spoke of the "mixed emotions" about the win, while both he and scrum coach Greg Feek summed it up as a 'bittersweet' experience.

This week, Georgia will provide a test for the Ireland eight that their backs may not match. The team will be expected to score tries, but to do so they'll need good ball.

Ross came through 74 solid minutes against the Springboks on his return from injury, but felt there was plenty of room for improvement.

"If you look at the two tries we scored they are from set-piece, so we were able to pull it together when we needed to," he reflected. "Don't get me wrong, I wasn't too happy after the game, even though we won. It was a bit bittersweet, but better than if we lost.

"It's mixed emotions. If we had lost and the set-piece had gone well I'd probably sleep a bit better. When we win and the set-piece hasn't gone the way we needed it to there is a self-recrimination going on. It's a unit thing, you have to do your bit.

"If you personally had a good game it makes it easier to sleep at night. Obviously if you win that's better."

For Feek, this week is about righting some wrongs.

"This is Georgia and there's just as big a contest up front as it was on the weekend," he said. "Maybe they're not as synergised as South Africa were but they still do it every week in the Top 14 so we can't take anything lightly; it's going to be tough.

"Last week's victory, there is a lot of euphoria around about it but there was a real bittersweet feeling in the changing-room, particularly from numbers 1-8 and the guys that replaced them.

"We thought we could have gone better, particularly a lot of discipline, things like not giving easy outs like collapsing... maybe we didn't focus on the job in hand enough. This week we want to make sure we cover all of those things and get those things right."

The coaching staff are likely to ask Ross to go again, even though his work on the 'watt-bike' during his abductor injury lay-off meant he didn't feel off the pace against South Africa. Generally, he has needed games to get up to speed and given the change of pace expected when Australia come to town, he'll hope to be match-fit.

Injuries to Nathan White and Marty Moore mean Ross remains far ahead of the other options for the No 3 shirt and it was telling that Schmidt waited until the game was put beyond doubt before introducing Rodney Ah You.

"We have just been unlucky with our injuries," the 34-year-old Leinster player said.

"Marty is out, Whitey is out. That's a good bit of depth there. Take away two of the top tightheads in any country's armoury and you are going to have a bit more pressure on the guys who are there.

"But we have some good talent coming through, Stephen Archer, Rodney Ah You, Tadhg Furlong... we are going to be well served over the next 10 years."

Ross is in talks over a new contract and wants to continue for another two years.

That gives Feek a little more room to develop options, with Furlong long touted for the top.

"Nothing beats experience," he said of the back-up options.

"Those guys are getting the experience at training now that they wouldn't have had if those other guys were there.

"Coming in and doing the live scrums at training against the best, the starting front-row for Ireland, those things are important too and it means they can step up," he commented.

Feek says it's all about being mentally right.

"Physically he ticks all the boxes," he explained.

"Nowadays, with these younger guys, there's no age factor. It's all about now, mentally can they handle international rugby?

"Are they up to it mentally because physically a lot of them are, and then there's the technical aspects of it," he added.

"So that's why, for me, getting them into the environment you can test them mentally and see how they cope with all the information all at once."

Belfast Telegraph


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