The Grand Slam and the Six Nations title is France's to lose, and Ireland find themselves in the same boat when it comes to the Triple Crown against Scotland on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 4.45pm). But for Andy Farrell these are side issues to what kind of performance he wants from his side.
“Our best one,” he says simply. “Putting it all together, it’s never going to be perfect but I thought we dealt with last week really well, being calm and controlled in the red-hot heat of battle in Twickenham when they were coming back at us.
“The two tries were excellent, 13 phases – a great try. A set-piece play that everyone was in sync and on point regarding their job was great to see as well. We were able to be calm, keep playing our game but that could be better as well.
“For example, we’d three penalties given away on the trot so that’s not to say we’ve got to a place now where we’ve been able to control our emotions, and we certainly haven’t. In that respect, all of our game is there to be improved and we expect a good performance from ourselves in all areas at the weekend.”
While he has no doubt his players have the skill set, Farrell repeated that “it takes time” to develop the kind of game Ireland are trying to play.
“Are we there? No. I don’t think we are. Are we getting better? Yes, yes we are. The lads are working unbelievably hard to try and own their own plan and that’s when you see the progress.”
To that end, Farrell admitted his side were frustrated they didn’t take greater advantage of the line breaks and chances they created last week, but added: “There is always stuff that you have to be careful of; you think you’re progressing and then all of a sudden you start getting ahead of yourselves. That’s not the right thing either.
“We make sure we keep ourselves in check and keep ourselves in the right mindset and understand where we can get better, and that’s across all areas of attack. That’s exciting for us moving forward.”
Farrell said it was easy not to be distracted by the possibility of winning the title should they beat Scotland and France lose to England. It’s all about day-by-day processes and preparation.
“Our lads won’t have one minute’s thought about what’s going on in Paris because there’s too much respect there for Scotland. Scotland are a hard team to beat, so we need to make sure we give our own fans something to shout about on this St Patrick’s weekend.”
As was the case in the Stade de France cauldron, the decibel levels at Twickenham were altogether higher than at the Aviva Stadium for Ireland’s previous home games. But a later kick-off and Saturday’s billing should make for a better atmosphere.
Either way, Farrell accepted the crowd’s support hinged on his team’s performance.
“We expect a good performance out of ourselves that helps the crowd to get into the game. We want the crowd to be happy with what they see their team do. We want to achieve. The fans have been outstanding,” Farrell maintained.
“One of the things we said at Twickenham was to make sure we heard the Irish crowd because we knew there were going to be thousands of them there, and we certainly heard them in the last 10 minutes.
"We'd like them to get behind us obviously from minute one on Saturday because it would be a great way to finish the Six Nations off, but to do that, we need to play well. If we do that, our fans will be right behind us, there is no doubt about that."
Farrell has made three changes for this game, with Iain Henderson replacing the sidelined James Ryan, Jack Conan restored at number eight with Caelan Doris reverting to blindside, and Mack Hansen returning in place of Andrew Conway. Kieran Treadwell is on the bench, where he is joined by Peter O'Mahony, although Farrell insisted the latter was not "dropped" per se, more that this was the right backrow combination for this game.
“That is what squad selection is all about, picking the right team for the right occasion and Jack has done pretty well coming off the bench. He’ll be a fresh enough pair of legs to be at his best on Saturday.”
Gregor Townsend has made two changes, restoring the fit again Jonny Gray to the secondrow and promoting Edinburgh's Blair Kinghorn at outhalf, with Finn Russell demoted to the bench, which most likely will feel like being "dropped" for the Racing 92 playmaker.
“Surprised? Yes and no. I think everyone was expecting Finn to play, he’s a great player, but I watched the Connacht game and Blair [Kinghorn] was the best player on the pitch by a country mile,” said Farrell.
Hansen is restored after playing in Ireland’s opening three games and Farrell said: “We know what he brings. He links unbelievably well, he’s got a good feel for a winger, he creates an extra pair of hands, an extra nous of where the space is.
“He’s quick and he’s a good finisher. He’s improving all the time, how to be an international player, and this type of experience on Saturday will be priceless for him.”
That Hansen has fitted into his new team and Test rugby pretty seamlessly Farrell attributed to the 23-year-old’s “character” and “manner”.
“He’s very calm, sometimes horizontal actually. But he’s able to deal with the pressure extremely well. He knows himself, he knows his game, he does the work to understand our game as well and he’s able to go out there and produce.”
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Iain Henderson (Ulster); Caelan Doris (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster).
Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Kieran Treadwell (Ulster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster), Joey Carbery (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster).
SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg; Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Kyle Steyn; Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Rory Darge, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Sam Skinner, Josh Bayliss, Ben White, Finn Russell, Mark Bennett.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
ARs: Karl Dickson (RFU) & Christophe Ridley (RFU)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (RFU)