THE last time Ireland were starring down the barrel of a Six Nations meeting with England there was not much light at the end of the tunnel as they limped from game to game, giving mediocre performances, and had chalked up two defeats to Wales and France already.
Twelve months later and former Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll is getting giddy about how Andy Farrell’s side are evolving.
“It has come on leaps and bounds within a year. From the England game to now is a 4/10 to a 7.5/10, that’s how much of a jump this last year has been. And that’s why it’s exciting, and it’s a consistency of gameplan as well. The players were telling us a year ago that “it’s coming, it’s coming”, but it was hard to see it, but eventually it has landed and we are getting giddy about it because it looks really good.
“It also feels that this Irish team has real bottle. It feels as though they have a real self-belief which kind of inspires a bit of confidence in the rest of us, that even when it goes badly that it is not going to be catastrophic.
“And they can find a way, and they have proven it pretty consistently against some of the better nations. What they have done against New Zealand in the last four or five games, to do it consistently against France in the past decade. England have been a bit of a bogey team but I think at the moment they should not be fearful of that English side, so it does feel as though they are finding an alternative way of dealing with this power game.”
This was the mot du jour after Ireland’s 30-24 loss to France, as the hosts’ pack simply blasted Ireland backwards and sideways until they began to tire in the second half. O’Driscoll was keen to stress that Ireland have to find another way of playing against such gargantuan teams.
I think we need to learn to counterpunch, don’t we, as we did, and just not let the power game overawe us.
"It has always been our Achilles heel, certainly in the last number of years in particular when we have come unstuck when the bigger sides have gotten the better of us.
“We can’t grow bigger humans than we already have. We’ve got the biggest rugby players going out there that we can possibly choose from, in conjunction with skilful players, so we are going to have to think our way around beating opposition like that, try not to get into arm wrestles, and find a way to stay in the game which I think is exactly what we did.
“So, for me it was an inspiring performance. It gave me huge confidence that we are actually able to deal with the power game and counterpunch and not get embroiled with trying to take them on with their own game. So, for me there were lots of positives to be taken out of it rather than seeing it as a negative.
“We know that teams are going to come at us with a huge power game because they have seen us in the past where we have struggled, so it’s just a way of us finding a way to an alternative route in staying in matches.
“Another thing is to hold onto possession, it is a lot easier playing with the ball than against. We don’t have to play that complete power game when we have the ball in hand because now we have a game plan and shape and an understanding of different options to throw variety at the opposition and make them second guess their own defensive systems.”
And while O’Driscoll is clearly happy regarding the current health of the Irish team, there is always room for improvement.
“You can never sit on your laurels. You can never think that you are the finished article and that you don’t have room for improvement because coaches will always find it.
“They have some way to go to get to really high-end, kind of 9/10 performances, that they need coming into a World Cup.”