World knows what Ireland can do but bigger challenges await

Players happy with clean sweep but are under no illusions about Six Nations and World Cup

Rhys Ruddock is held up during the Ireland vs Australia game in the Aviva Stadium: “It was mentally the most challenging game I’ve been involved in.” Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Rhys Ruddock is held up during the Ireland vs Australia game in the Aviva Stadium: “It was mentally the most challenging game I’ve been involved in.” Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

 
Michael Cheika

They know that Rhys Ruddock, regardless of the number on his back, can have an impact comparable to the best flankers in the game.

“Mentally I just had to prepare to work extra hard at seven because you know that you’ll be the first person to a lot of breakdowns,” said Ruddock. “Keep an eye on their backrowers and get them in sight so you can take them out before they get to the ruck. There’s definitely a shift in the mindset but that happens from early in the week and it feels like it happens more naturally.”

It happened on the morning of the Springbok game when his roommate Chris Henry suffered a chilling brain injury.

The rest of the world knows that Ireland’s collective resolve has improved to a level perhaps never attained by an Irish national sports team.

“I didn’t really enjoy the final whistle or the game because it was just so tiring,” Ruddock said. “Being off our feet and having mentally to go to that dark place more so even than South Africa . . . It was mentally the most challenging game I’ve been involved in.”

Final scrum

Ireland

Second Captains

“We knew first off we couldn’t give away a penalty because it was right beneath the sticks,” said Ross of the last scrum when he won a penalty out of James Slipper. “We had to be as legal as possible. We’d taken them a bit lower in the previous couple, they seemed a bit less confident than they had been. We dropped it a little bit, kept the pressure down and through, and waited to see who would blink first.

“The longer it went on, we just kept dropping and dropping. Suddenly something gave. God, when I was getting up and heard the whistle, I was worried which way this is going to go. Because you never know. Thankfully it was for us.”

The masterplan was to lighten the load on the Ross, 35 in December, but injuries to Nathan White and Marty Moore saw Rodney Ah You promoted.

They know, after Saturday, that the choke tackle remains a valued Irish weapon.

“For us now it is about mixing it up,” said Rory Best. “Les (Kiss) spent a lot of time when he first came in trying to prefect (the choke). We have it but it is not our only thing. We have the chop tackle, the poach. It is about keeping teams thinking.”

Grand Slam

“We saw last year if you don’t step up 5 per cent, you lose big games against top sides and that’s what happened to stop us winning the Grand Slam.”

Everyone knows there’s a massive bounty on Ireland’s head now. “Going into the Six Nations as title holders, everyone is going to want to knock you over,” Ross said. “It just goes with the territory and we’re aware of it.”

They world knows that Paul O’Connell is still a force of nature. They know that Jonathan Sexton rarely misses. And, most incredibly, they know that Joe Schmidt can work through appendicitis.

Now, what are they going to do about it?

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