If Joe Schmidt can get the consistent Ireland to show up this could be the start of something special
Now is the time to end the team’s swings from excellence to mediocrity
Joe Schmidt talks to his team in November. This Ireland team must find a measure of consistency. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Including the Scots’ famous victory over Ireland at Croke Park, in 2010, the last four Six Nations games between these two nations have been shared, two wins apiece. If we include the 2011 RWC warm-up game, which the Scots won, the ledger is Scotland three and Ireland two.
To put it simply, Ireland find the Scots awkward to play and difficult to defeat.
Prior to the kick off in each of these matches, Ireland were clear favourites. In all of these matches, if a combined 15 were selected, very few, if any, Scots would make the team.
In recent seasons Scotland has brought great aggression and commitment to their fixture with Ireland. The Scots play with real purpose, particularly at the breakdown. Here they disrupt Ireland and denying them fast ruck ball. This has lead to a disjointed Irish attack and a lot of frustrated men in green. Scotland’s disruption of Ireland’s attacking rhythm manifests itself in Ireland losing discipline and giving away penalties.
Their attacking system of passing to the flanks then running has been effective against Ireland’s defensive system which remains vulnerable out wide.
The key for Scotland is that playing Ireland holds no fear. Playing fellow Celts is as natural as fighting your brother for the TV remote. There is no fear, just an opportunity for real fun and the competitive nature of Celts to emerge.
Mindset drives performance and the Scots’ mindset is one of confidence based on past performances.
Regrettably, when Scotland play other leading Six Nations countries their mindset changes. Against Wales, England and France their mindset is defensive and not attacking. Where there is confidence against Ireland, the Scots have doubt against these opponents. In these matches the Scots lose the belief that they can win.
Burden of expectation
Against Italy, Scotland suffer the burden of expectation. They know they should win and this burden almost always affects their performance in a negative manner.
For Scotland tomorrow is a potential triumph and for Ireland it is a potential disaster.
The result will swing on which Ireland team turns up at the Aviva.
The soft, disinterested, disorganised Ireland that were so embarrassingly poor against Australia. Or the magnificently aggressive and abrasive Ireland, that were accurate in their set plays, support and off loading against New Zealand.
The Ireland that played Australia will be defeated and the Ireland that played New Zealand will win, and win well.
There is one word that defines Joe Schmidt’s mission with the Irish national team.
If he is to be a successful national coach, consistency must be his mantra. Joe must repeat this message nights and day. It must be hammered it into the soul of this team.
With the notable exception of the Grand Slam victory of 2009, when Ireland were gloriously consistent and allowed us all to observe their greatness, a lack of consistency has condemned Ireland to the margins of international tournaments. Ireland’s failure on the world stage is because consistently high performing teams are rewarded in the Six Nations and the World Cup.