Away from the pressures of trying to win a Series in New Zealand, the Ireland squad have been doing their best to ensure that they are enjoying the experience along the way.
With some form of a Nations League coming down the line, tours like this may never happen again. So, while there is a huge amount at stake when it comes to the challenge of taking on the All Blacks in their backyard, it’s important to relieve the pressure valve every now and then.
As the main lineout caller, James Ryan has enough on his plate as he looks to nail his detail ahead of Saturday’s second Test, but the lock was also appointed to the fines committee, meaning his hands are full with dishing out punishments to players who are deemed to have broken the tour rules.
The IRFU’s social media channels gave a brief insight into some of what that entails, when they posted a video of James Lowe and Joe McCarthy cracking eggs, boiled and unboiled, on their heads, as Ryan kept a watchful eye over proceedings.
It’s all part of the fun of touring. Anyone who has seen the behind-the-scenes Lions footage of the 1997 tour when Keith Wood held court, or, in 2017, when Simon Zebo had to call Rob Penny, asking if he could become Munster captain, will understand how these kinds of things can really bond a squad.
“I’m one of the sheriffs, so making sure guys don’t slip up,” Ryan explained. “If anyone’s late or any mishaps, they get punished pretty severely actually.”
As for what those punishments entail when the cameras are turned off, Ryan smiled: “Probably things that aren’t printable. The punishments and fines – we’re pretty corrupt, so we take all sorts in exchange.
“The most heinous crime, no, I won’t even go into it. But it’s a bit of craic. It’s important to make the tours enjoyable – and then from Wednesday, Thursday you start to focus on the Test,” added Ryan.
Having spent the first chunk of the tour in Auckland, Ireland flew to Dunedin yesterday to ramp up preparations for Saturday’s second Test.
With coffee shops aplenty and electric scooters to get around on, the players enjoyed their time in Auckland, according to Ryan.
“They need to get the scooters in Dublin, don’t they? I don’t know how well they’d work though. I think they could be trouble.
“But they’ve been brilliant, $20 pass for the whole week. We’ve got some guys that are good on the financial tips and advice – and so Tadhg Beirne, and I think it was Ryan Baird, gave us the heads up to save a few bucks, buy the pass, scooter for the week.”
Getting around on the scooters also means the players haven’t always been stopped by the locals, who once they spot the Ireland gear are mad keen for a chat.
“They do like their rugby here, that’s definitely one takeaway,” Ryan said. “There’s rugby pitches in the middle of the city, like, they’re everywhere. And you pop into the gym or grab a coffee and people everywhere are asking you about the game or about rugby.
“It’s kind of cool, actually. It’s great to be touring in a country like that. They love that you’re here, and they love that you’re competing against them.”
For many players in the squad, this is their first experience of a proper tour. Assigning different roles on the social committee has allowed certain guys to come out of their shells.
“Faz (Andy Farrell) always drives that,” Ryan maintained.
“He wants not just Johnny (Sexton) or Pete (O’Mahony) or whatever, he often says he wants everybody to be a leader, everybody to come out of their shell.
“It’s a big part of this tour and we’ve talked about how the Maori games are just as important as the Tests in terms of building that squad and that depth, and helping the young guys step up.
“So we’ve definitely seen guys step up to the plate and be more vocal and have a point of view.”
It is back down to the serious stuff today, as Ireland put the finishing touches to the game-plan that they hope rescues the Series. For Ryan, that means making sure there are major improvements at the lineout.
“The height they had last week, it is a challenge with Scott Barrett, (Sam) Whitelock and (Brodie) Retallick, but that’s what you want as lineout caller,” Ryan added.
“We couldn’t properly put our best foot forward in terms of our attack and in terms of our starter plays, because of the set-piece at times. That’s one that we need to fix for this week.”