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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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In From The Side: Where do we go from here?
After such an incredible opening 40 minutes to the Six Nations, momentum has swung against Ireland.

LOSING TO ENGLAND is hard to take.

More than any other nation, they inspire the most tribal feeling within us all.

A win, may well be a win. But to win against England has been the driving force of Irish rugby for as long as the game has existed.

In the recent past we have made a habit of beating the Old Enemy. So, for better or worse, Ireland now has a mood of expectancy when the chariots roll into town.

A loss to Scotland may be embarrassing. The French, predictable. Wales, heartbreaking. But England; so much emotion is stirred by that red rose on that white shirt that elation or anger are the only possible outcomes.

Now that the dust (or mud) has settled on the six-point defeat, it’s time to take stock.

The Championship – that fine looking trophy that we’ve only been able to dream about for all bar one of the past 28 years – is not beyond Ireland yet. We don’t recall many (if any) pundit predicting a clean sweep over the five games. So Ireland, Wales and current leaders England are all capable of claiming top spot on Paddy’s weekend.

Boost

Mercifully, Declan Kidney’s side have a weekend out of the firing line before heading for Scotland and another weekend in cotton wool before France come to Dublin.

11 days from now Scotland will be relaxed, yet emboldened on the back of a confidence-building win over Italy that will boost crowds for a clash with a team shorn of Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy and potentially a few more front-liners. In other words, the difficulty that Scots perennially pose will be multiplied by a heightened sense of belief.

Another Sunday kick-off means that, by then, we will already know the fate of France at Twickenham and Wales in the Stadio Olympico. The results there will have a great bearing on the mind-set too. Murrayfield will ensure a defining Test for a sub-strength squad.

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The final two weekends bring France to Dublin, a potential title decider when England visit Cardiff and a host of hypothetical situations.

Anything could happen. Yet in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s defeat, when Jamie Heaslip and Craig Gilroy could not but hide their disappointment, the eyes of Rob Kearney and Declan Kidney were locked with a steely resolve. A sense that this defeat was borne out of basic errors that shredded momentum and field position. Basic errors that would never be repeated with such an alarming frequency again.

“Today was a chance to showcase our consistency,” Kearney said in a stiff suit for a stiff, aching body. “But it’s by no means panic stations, and we have to take confidence from the fact that this Championship is still wide open.

“Wales and France are by no means easy games that England still have to play.”

The defeat does not make Ireland stronger, but it does place us back into an underdog role.

No matter how much we may dislike it, that is when the collective psyche is most in tune.

George North scores try, George North’s dad runs on to the Stade de France pitch to celebrate

‘I’m totally confident Paddy could step up and do the job for Ireland’ – Luke Marshall

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