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Six Nations: Only a win against England will erase doubts

By Hugh Farrelly

Renowned Australian coach Alan Jones, who led Mark Ella and the Wallabies on their triumphant tour of Europe in 1984, had a saying: “A rooster one day, a feather duster the next.”

The late Mick Doyle coached Ireland against the Wallabies on that tour, but his successor Declan Kidney and his Ireland charges could relate to the sentiment after two weeks of fall-out from the 33-10 defeat in Paris.

It was, after all, one loss in 13 matches, but the reverse, and the nature of it, sparked a knee-jerk reaction in various quarters somewhat out of proportion with the realities of the situation.

Given society's modern, multi-outlet capacity for instant, uncensored response, perhaps this should not have come as a major surprise — “it is what it is,” as Kidney himself might put it — but a back-up defeat in Twickenham today and the scrutiny, hysterical or otherwise, can be expected to ratchet up a few notches.

Time was, between 1994 and 2004 for example, England's superiority was such that trips to Twickenham were more about reducing the margin of defeat than entertaining realistic notions of avoiding it.

However, Grand Slams come with raised bars attached and once that feat was achieved last March, it was about backing up that milestone and bringing it towards the World Cup next year.

In this regard, it is essential this Ireland squad gets Paris out of its system immediately by securing a victory of any description today.

An Irish victory would be reaffirming for Kidney's men. They could then negotiate the home fixtures against Wales and Scotland with a certain degree of latitude and use the belief that comes from a significant away victory as ballast for this summer's southern hemisphere tour. Defeat today and further doubt starts to set in.

So, how do Ireland go about it? Well, the team selection was a good start. Kidney has brought an impressive line-up to London.

Yes, it was hard on Leo Cullen to lose his second-row slot, but there was never an issue about the quality of his replacement Donncha O'Callaghan, merely concerns relating to his month on the sideline recovering from a medial knee injury.

However, Kidney and forwards coach Gert Smal would not have gone with the Munster man if they did not feel he was perfectly equipped for what promises to be an uber-physical challenge and they have more than earned the right to have that judgement supported. Rory Best for Jerry Flannery had a comfortingly familiar feel to it and Geordan Murphy, though with just one game under his belt after injury, is a quality, experienced operator.

This contest promises to be tense, hard-fought and, in all probability, not overly easy on the eye. However, Ireland have the capacity to come out on top in a close contest allowing the feather duster to be safely stowed away.

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