Palpable harmony in Ireland squad reflected on the pitch

Testimony from O’Mahony and Earls suggests Ireland are indeed in a good place

Peter O'Mahony has been involved in 23 different campaigns for Ireland since winning the first of his 79 caps against Italy in February 2012, be they November series, Six Nations, summer tours or World Cups.

So for the 32-year-old to say the last month has been his most enjoyable of them all truly is saying something.

This follows on from Keith Earls last week revealing that the players have come to know each other "in a deeper level than any squad I've ever been involved with".

Even some of those squad members who didn't see any game time in the autumn series were happier to be there than not involved at all, which speaks volumes for the way Andy Farrell and his staff have built such palpable harmony in the squad.

“It’s great because it’s the culture that you’re trying to bring together,” said Farrell.

“The reason that they say that is because we’re constantly judging them on how to be a good teammate and what it takes to be that. It’s not just about friendship, it’s about how you prepare, how you help each other prepare, how you turn up for training on a daily basis and to want to get better and help your teammates. It’s pleasing when you hear things like that.”

All of which is also abundantly evident in their togetherness on the field and the enjoyment the players clearly have with the brand of rugby, albeit as Farrell pointed out it helps when you start a campaign with a 60-5 victory over Japan, setting this against the Six Nations opener away to Wales.

“We went down to 14 men and we ended up losing the game and you’re on the back foot. So it’s a big part of what we do, isn’t it, just trying to get back up to speed as soon as we possibly can and I think the Japan game certainly put us on the right track.”

Another striking feature of this campaign was how level-headed the team appeared to remain rather than shout from the rooftops, even after beating the All Blacks. This all emanates from the “balance” they are seeking.

“I don’t think that we’re the type of team that’s just beating our chests and going out there and trying to play as physical a game as we possibly can,” said Farrell.

“We’re actually thinking our way pretty smartly through games and there were times [against Argentina] that we didn’t have a grip in the game, certainly in the first quarter, and we were composed enough to realise that and get back on track. That’s the most pleasing part, the balance in how we’re playing the game at this moment and time.”

Last game

This also extends to keeping this series in context.

“Like the lads have kept on saying to you, we don’t win a trophy for the Autumn Nations. But hopefully it will stand to us in regards to how we’ve grown together as a group for the next time we meet up, and that’s the Six Nations.

“We all know what the Six Nations means to everyone and I suppose everyone always says it and we adhere to the same thing, you’re only as good as your last game. So we’re pretty pleased with how the last month has gone, with regards to growing the group.”

The collective harmony and Farrell's calm demeanour perhaps also helped to counter the Covid scare before the All Blacks game and then losing Jack Conan last Sunday morning, Iain Henderson just before kick-off and James Ryan just before half-time, with Tadhg Beirne left to call the lineouts.

In this he paid tribute to Paul O'Connell for his diligence and work ethic, and "how that marries up with Mike Catt and what he's doing with the set-piece plays" in what has also been a positive month for his assistants.

He paid tribute to John Fogarty for Ireland's "outstanding" scrum and Andrew Porter's "seamless" move back to loosehead prop, and Simon Easterby's work as defence coach.

“I’ve said it all along in the three games, I thought our defence has been outstanding over the course of this month and that says it all really.”

Ireland go into the Six Nations on the back of eight successive wins, but Farrell maintained: “I wouldn’t say we’re ahead of schedule. We’re just trying to grow, we’re just trying to improve in where we’re at in terms of performances. We weren’t best pleased with everything we did in the first half. There was a bit to fix from the first half. There’s lessons learned from every single performance.

“The lads are in a place now that they critique their own performances as a group, and [they will] be as open and honest as they possibly can be, and I think that’s the strength of the culture that we’re trying to grow.”

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