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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 25 March, 2019
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Park it! 'We made mistakes on the pitch, nothing to do with the bus'

Even best laid plans can unravel, so Ireland must show an ability to adapt and improvise.

ALMOST A WEEK on from the opening Six Nations match and the curious yet mundane case of the re-routed bus in Edinburgh was still casting a shadow.

Head coach Joe Schmidt was the first to reveal the traffic inconvenience caused by waterworks and a police diversion, casually slipping the nugget in right at the start of a couple of post-match interviews on Saturday.

Unprompted, Schmidt returned to the logistical matter after naming his team to face Italy today.

Everyone agrees the delay was not the reason Ireland were late to hit top speed against a Scotland side who took advantage of their visitors’ sluggish start by running in three tries in 30 first-half minutes. And yet, mostly through Schmidt’s famous attention to detail, it keeps coming up.

As the players’ representative at the Monday briefing, Robbie Henshaw downplayed the impact of the tardiness. The centre said the squad had 25 minutes to spare before the warm-up as opposed to the normal 45.

Paddy Jackson, Garry Ringrose and Billy Holland File photo of Ireland players who get to the stadium on time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That makes it seem like the only portion of the schedule Ireland had to cut or even raced through was the time allotted for sitting and reading the match programme – a shot which appears in every pre-game broadcast.

“It wouldn’t be an excuse for us,” said Simon Zebo in Carton House today, “Joe would probably be the first to say that. It’s one of the things that didn’t go our way… we made mistakes on the pitch, nothing to do with the bus. We know where we went wrong and now we have a chance to rectify it this weekend.”

Off in a different room of the hotel, Zebo’s provincial team-mate Conor Murray was very much of the same opinion as he fielded questions alongside his head coach.

Slower

“We won’t make any excuses. We started the game poorly and that’s a reflection on us as players and what we did out there.

“We all had enough time to warm up and enough time to get ready for that time difference of arriving to the stadium and the warm-up starting a bit differently. So I wouldn’t put it down to that, it’s just us as a group of players, we prepared really well during the week, we just started a lot slower than Scotland.”

Schmidt makes the valid point that professional athletes are creatures of habit and sound, familiar routines are important pillars in high performance. But perceptions of weakness and strength are important in rugby too, and if opponents get the idea that Ireland are easily put off their game then there is sure to be a fire alarm pulled or a brass band sent in during nap time in the team hotel some day soon.

Simon Zebo arrives Simon Zebo gets off the infamous team bus in Murrayfield. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Had Ireland kept the pedal down and completed a comeback victory in Scotland, or refrained from giving Alex Dunbar a free five-metre dive to the try-line, we would never hear about their battle through the adversity of a delayed bus. Diversions are annoying, but not enough to derail any team who feel able to think on their feet.

“The main thing is that we’re ready to show up and play 80 minutes. We had the whole week to build up to it,” says Zebo.

“We know exactly what our jobs are and when we have to do them. If the bus is 10 minutes late or 20 minutes early, it doesn’t matter, we know we’re in for a battle.”

How’s the traffic in Rome these days?

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‘People might laugh, but in a few years we’ll be a very good team’ — Conor O’Shea

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Sean Farrell

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