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Bib-wearers a key part of Ireland's drive to be the best team in the world

Jack Conan explains how the players outside Ireland’s XV have been bringing intensity to training.

SELFLESSNESS ISN’T SOMETHING that has always been associated with sports people but it is something Joe Schmidt’s Ireland have strived towards.

The 23 men who were on the pitch against the All Blacks were vital to that victory, of course, but this Ireland group placed plenty of emphasis on the players who did not get the opportunity to tog out.

Joe Schmidt Joe Schmidt at Ireland's training session yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Those who watched in the stands felt real envy at not being out there celebrating a memorable win and yet, they had played their part in the success.

At the start of this remarkable 2018, Joe Schmidt’s squad sat down for a meeting that helped them to plot out how they would attempt to become the best team in the world.

One element of their preparation that was identified as an area they could improve was how the ‘bib-wearers’ at training performed, how hard the non-starting XV players pushed the starters.

This certainly involves channelling some of the frustration at missing out, but it also involves the selflessness of ensuring that those ahead of you are better prepared than ever.

“At the end of the day, you have to put your ego to one side and want the team to do well rather than your individual self,” explains number eight Jack Conan, who missed out on involvement against the All Blacks.

“You take it on the chin. Yeah, it’s disappointing not to be involved but you have to add to the lads around you.

“We spoke early in the year, during the Six Nations, about how we could be the best team in the world and one of the challenges that was laid down was that even the lads that weren’t involved – the bibs, as we call them, the non-XV – that we were bringing another level, another intensity.

“They’re constantly testing the lads that are getting the chance. Instead of having 15 or 20 lads pissed off that they aren’t playing, they’re adding to it, they’re bringing a new intensity, they’re bringing line-speed in ‘D’, they’re on the ball when it comes to attack, are sharp and all the drills are spot on.

Jack Conan Conan is eager for an opportunity this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So, the starting team need to be better and better collectively as the campaign grows.

“That is the sign of a good team, that even when you are frustrated you still work hard for each other to push the lads around you to be better.”

Conan, for example, played the role of New Zealand’s Liam Squire in Ireland’s opposed training drills last week, driving the starters as hard as he possibly could within the two squad pitch sessions.

Ireland’s coaching staff have been pleased with this development within their squad and, for their part, invest as much time into reviewing training performances from non-starters as they do for the first-choice XV.

“I think there is an onus probably put onto the players from the coaches,” said Murphy of how hard the bibs are pushing the starters. “But in the end, they are the guys who have to be able to deliver that through the week in training.

“They would be highlighted. If things aren’t where they need to be, they will get highlighted just as much as the guys who would be in the team.

“I think it’s probably a little bit two-fold. The guys that have come into the panel over the last couple of years and know that they are not going to play, they know they want to be a part of something that is obviously going quite well.

“They drive themselves in many ways but if guys aren’t coming up to the level that is expected of them, they will be told, like any of the players that are starting in the team.”

This weekend against the US, some of those who have had frustrations in recent weeks will have a chance to vent them on game day – not just on the training pitch.

Rhys Ruddock in the team huddle The US await a much-changed Ireland team. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Conan is among the players set to come into the side for a big opportunity and while Ireland’s supporters might struggle to get back to the pitch they hit against the All Blacks last weekend, there will be no shortage of focus from Ireland’s players.

Schmidt set the tone early this week – take your chances.

“He started off the week by saying that this isn’t just a chance to relax after such a big occasion that was beating the All Blacks at home,” said Conan.

“It’s an opportunity for other lads who are getting a chance this weekend to show their frustrations at not playing in the last few weeks and to make sure they’re the lads bringing the energy and driving this week on. 

“We didn’t do a whole lot yesterday so we trained really hard today and it was a great set-up and a good start to the week. Lads are really excited to get their shot and get one more run out this year before we break out of the international window.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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