History makers

'We're not thinking about Grand Slams yet' - Ireland turn focus to Wales

Ireland will gather for a short training camp in Belfast this week as Warren Gatland’s side come into focus.

IRELAND’S POST-MATCH dealings yesterday were as much about limiting Grand Slam talk as they were about dissecting their excellent performance in beating England.

Robbie Henshaw scores a try despite Alex Goode Robbie Henshaw finishes smartly from a Conor Murray kick. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Head coach Joe Schmidt underlined the need for the players to take time to enjoy this latest success, arguably the most impressive Irish display since they lost to the All Blacks in 2013, but talk of championship success is only natural.

Next up for Ireland is a visit to Cardiff on Saturday 14 March, before they travel to Scotland a week later for their final fixture of this year’s Six Nations. Wales’ ambition is to ensure Ireland don’t arrive in Edinburgh in search of a Grand Slam.

Warren Gatland’s men kept their championship hopes alive with a 20-13 win in Paris on Saturday, meaning they still have everything to play for even if their points difference is currently unfavourable.

Ireland will have confidence in their head coach’s ability to produce a game plan to fully exploit Welsh weaknesses, much as Schmidt managed to do last year in for dominant 26-3 win in Dublin.

The Millenium Stadium makes it a different game altogether, however, so it seems likely that Ireland will need to hit the same heights they did yesterday against England.

The preparation begins with a short training camp in Belfast this week, when Schmidt’s group will meet up again after a day off with their belief fully reinforced. A record-equalling 10 consecutive wins has them in fine shape mentally.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in the backroom staff, a lot of confidence in ourselves,” explains back row Jordi Murphy, who deputised excellently for Jamie Heaslip at number eight yesterday.

“They have a lot of confidence in us as well; winning breeds confidence. We are just going to go back to the drawing board on Tuesday and just keep working hard and try to keep winning.”

Jack Nowell caught by Rory Best and Jordi Murphy Murphy was strong at number eight for Ireland. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Murphy says he and his teammates will reflect on a job well done against England, although there are likely to be areas Schmidt pinpoints as unsatisfactory in Tuesday’s video review. That much will never change.

The Leinster man says his experience of playing England at underage levels and last year in Twickenham has involved being on the losing side “90 percent of the time,” so there is genuine happiness in emerging with this win.

Moving on swiftly is another habit this Ireland team has built under Schmidt, although they look ahead only one step at a time. The talk of a Grand Slam is going to be left to those on the outside of the squad.

“We didn’t win one last year,” says Murphy as he outlines just how difficult a Grand Slam is to achieve. “We won one in 2009 and before that, I don’t know how many odd years it was.

There are two games to go and we’re going to think about it one at a time and we’re not thinking about Grand Slams yet. We’ve just got to go to Wales and do the job.

“We only look at one game at a time. That’s the thing about the Six Nations – every game is a cup final because you don’t want to lose a game.”

We expected nothing less from Schmidt and his players. Taking things game by game is the oldest cliché of them all, but for this Ireland side there continues to be genuine value in that maxim.

The next 12 days would do well by passing quickly. Another tremendous Six Nations showdown waits on the other side.

Was that display against England Paul O’Connell’s final act at home in the Six Nations?

Schmidt vows to ‘enjoy the moment, take a deep breath’ and pour cold water on Grand Slam talk

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