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Finding the right balance vital for Ireland: Rory Best

By Jonathan Bradley

Those braving the Scottish elements to take their seats early in Murrayfield this afternoon would be well advised to keep an eye trained upon the Irish warm-up.

Joe Schmidt's Grand Slam winners of 2018 were given a rude awakening in their Championship opener a week ago against England, with the coach admitting afterwards that he sensed a curious lack of energy in his squad on the Friday before the big game.

His captain Rory Best, speaking in Murrayfield yesterday, revealed he'd felt the same muted buzz come the warm-ups.

"You sensed it more (immediately) before the game than the Friday," said the Ulsterman. "Friday is a strange day, there's a little bit of light-heartedness, a bit of training and a bit of giddiness so close to a big game.

"But before the game I thought we were quite quiet. We're a relatively quiet bunch anyway bar a couple. Peter (O'Mahony), Johnny (Sexton) and myself are that bit more vocal.

"So you don't always read into the quietness, but looking back now, I felt we were a little bit hesitant in the warm-up, we made a few mistakes in the warm-up, and that wasn't like us. We didn't get the same buzz that we normally generate. It's hard to know why.

"We've looked at a few things in the camp. England I think basically did a contact session for 60 minutes last Wednesday where we were trying to recover from European Cup games.

"You can pick on that and read into things too much. For whatever reason, we struggled at the start and weren't able to change it. You always strive to find out why, and I think the prep has been better.

"There's been more edge and that comes from learning from your mistakes but also hurting and being a bit frustrated."

Such frustrations, coming off a run when prior to the thumping they'd won 18 of the past 19 games, have prompted talk of a backlash today. For Best and his other leaders within the squad, it is a matter of striking a balance between giving last week its due weight while also not over-reacting to one loss in the midst of an historic run of success.

"We needed to take a good look at ourselves and see what we needed to do better throughout the pitch, but sometimes the danger is we are so fixated with what may or may not be there that you forget what has worked really well for us," he said.

"And then you can also not take a look at the opposition, and this opposition in this ground are formidable. I think we have got that balance right.

"At the start of the week, the Sunday night meeting, Monday morning, it was tough.

"We took a long review of the game and chatted about our preparation and asked the question, 'What did we think was different?'

"And that was an individual thing. We just asked the question to get an answer internally. And then we took a good look at the Scottish.

"Last week's defeat was incredibly frustrating, and it is important you don't go trying to find things that maybe are not there.

"But the flip side of that is that it would be stupid and naive to go, 'Don't worry, it'll be fine next week' because the it'll be fine next week philosophy is something we have never lived by and as long as Joe is around and as long as I am around it won't be a motto we will live by either.

"I think we need to start well and we need to cut out the mistakes. When you look at that first set that England had, they got ahead of us at the lineout, they then got gainline and just when we got control again, because after the first couple of phases they didn't go too far for 10 phases and then we made one more mistake and they scored.

"We have got to understand at this level it is about putting moment after moment after moment and just when you think you are doing well, that is when you are at your most dangerous, because that is when you relax and as soon as you relax, that is when you are in trouble."

As Ireland licked their wounds, Schmidt was left with no choice but to freshen up his panel. Devin Toner's Six Nations is over while it's hard to see CJ Stander featuring before March. Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are both out today too. In the absence of the centres, Fivemiletown native Chris Farrell, now of Munster, comes in for his second Six Nations start.

"I think Chris was a cracking player whenever he played for us (Ulster)," said Best. "I just think he thought he was behind a bit of a backlog. He got a couple of nasty enough injuries and probably felt he needed to go somewhere to kickstart his career again. He has done unbelievably well.

"It is hugely frustrating to watch him play, and play so well for Munster. He has shown for Ireland that he can step up and be very good, and we need him to be very good (today)."

While the Six Nations is always going to be important in isolation, this particular contest carries extra weight in light of the World Cup in Japan later this year. These pair will face off in their pool opener and, without being presumptuous, the loser figures to face the All Blacks in the last eight.

On the nine occasions that Ireland have been paired with a Five or Six Nations rival in the World Cup, seven of the victors have also edged the most recent battle.

There is little point in denying that the build-up to that September 22 clash in Yokohama will heavily feature a narrative set this afternoon.

"At the minute with the week we've had it feels like a million miles away," said Best. "Having said that, it will creep up very quickly.

"Will there be much credence given to whatever happens tomorrow in seven months' time? Possibly.

"But at the same time, we need to focus on winning a Six Nations game. We need to get our campaign back on track.

"We'll worry in September, whenever September comes for those lucky enough to be involved in that one."

For those involved today, it's about nothing more than proving last week was only a bump in the road.

Bradley’s Verdict

Ireland know they have to lift themselves up off the canvas if they're not to spend the next seven months hearing murmurs that they've once again peaked too early in a World Cup cycle. A big day for Chris Farrell and his inclusion, along with that of London Irish-bound Sean O'Brien and Jack Conan, should give Joe Schmidt's men a good deal of the heft they seemed to be missing against England. They should have enough to get the job done here but it won't be easy.

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