It's a fickle game we play and no doubt about it. This time a year ago Ireland had come off a largely uninspiring Autumn Nations Cup by losing their opening two Six Nations games and despite a win in Rome in round three Andy Farrell's critics were lurking in the long grass. Quite visibly, and noisily, too.
Roll on a year, and Farrell has overseen a transformation in both Ireland's results - ten wins in their last 11 - and style of play as they head to Twickenham for Saturday's 2022 Guinness Six Nations title eliminator against England (kick-off 4.45pm). By contrast, the rumblings of discontent with Eddie Jones across the water are liable to intensify if England lose their final two games - they sign off by playing France in Paris - and so lead to either a fourth or a consecutive fifth place finish.
“It’s certainly part and parcel of the modern game,” admitted Farrell of the demand for results. “We’re all under pressure the whole time and we all realise that. You look at Eddie’s record across his career, it is second to none, so that says it all really.”
As for his own position a year ago, Farrell never doubted that the good times would roll again.
“First and foremost, if you’ve been involved in top level sport for long enough, you realise that you have to be able to take the rough with the smooth. Obviously the outside noise creeps in every now and again but it’s up to you to realise what is going to make your team better and that is you just being yourself. I suppose experience just allows you to bat away the noise and get on with the job in hand. Eddie is the most experienced man in world rugby at that.”
Jones upped Ireland to “red-hot favourites” on Thursday as well as repeating his description of them as the most cohesive side in the world, prompting Farrell to note that Jones also once said praise can make a side weak.
Maybe it is also creates an English siege mentality. The usual Jones mind games?
“I don’t know what it is,” said Farrell, “and I don’t care to be fair.”
Farrell and Jones have worked together as well as against each other, firstly when Jones was hired as a consultant by Saracens in February 2006 until the end of the season and secondly when he returned for a short-lived stint as director of rugby at the club in 2008-09 in Farrell’s time as a player there.
But he is neither bothered by, nor inclined to take part, in Jones’ pre-match mind games.
“No, I love Eddie’s comments. I love reading them. I think it’s great for the game. I love his character and charisma, I’ve learned a lot off him. I’ve worked under him. I’ve been a captain of a side for him. I’ve been in his company, but I don’t see the need. I don’t get it sometimes but I like reading it. I think it’s intriguing.”
Farrell has made six changes to the starting XV which sauntered to that facile win over Italy, recalling the fit again Andrew Conway, Bundee Aki, Johnny Sexton and James Ryan, as well as Hugo Keenan at fullback, while Cian Healy starts in place of the injured Andrew Porter.
Peter O'Mahony is retained at blindside and Caelan Doris at '8', with Jack Conan on the bench, where Iain Henderson and Conor Murray are recalled. Both Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw return to the replacements.
Prior to the Italian game, O'Mahony had been relegated to bench duty in four of Ireland's previous five Tests, but Farrell confirmed the evidence before our own eyes, namely that the Munster captain remained as committed to the cause as ever.
“I’ve been unbelievably impressed with how he’s handled himself. Pete’s started a lot of games for Ireland and has probably been top dog for a number of years in the past. He’s been in the squad and in the last couple of years he’s not been in the team, been on the bench or whatever, and he has never changed one iota.
“He has an unbelievably strong character to make sure he’s just a team first type of bloke and within all that I actually think his performance levels at the weekend and how we see him on a daily basis at training has improved.”
In his time as an English player - Farrell was unbeaten in his three starts at Twickenham - an assistant coach for both countries and latterly as Irish head coach, he understands more than most what a fortress it can be.
“They’ve certainly got a very good record there so there must be something in it,” said Farrell of the Twickenham factor, while also noting Ireland’s good record at the Aviva
“But it’s part of the journey, isn’t it? It’s part of the next step for us as a team to making sure we go to places like this and be at our best because we know that England are going to come at us. We know that they’re going to cause us problems but we’re confident in our own ability. We’re a good side, we need to make sure that we’re able to be at our best on the day on what is going to be a fantastic occasion.
“We know that there’s going to be thousands of Irish that are going to be at Twickenham and we want to hear them sing through our performance as well.”
Ireland team v England, Saturday, Twickenham (kick-off 4.45pm): Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary's College, capt), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf), Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf); Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD); O'Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution), Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary's College),
Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians, Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers), Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy), Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere), Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen), Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers).