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Lessons learned in Cardiff might save Ireland in the World Cup - Mike Ross

Two Kiwi head coaches go up against each other at Murrayfield this weekend.

A SENSE OF calm prevails around Carton House this week, and why wouldn’t it?

The restored mansion located just outside Dublin is never anything more than relaxed on media days, and Ireland are continuing that theme despite having allowed a Grand Slam to slip away last weekend in Cardiff.

BRITAIN HEINEKEN CUP RUGBY Cotter will be aiming to get into Schmidt's head this week. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Joe Schmidt and his players know more than anyone that overreaction is not required. This is a team that had won 10 consecutive games before losing to Warren Gatland’s side; their confidence in bouncing back against Scotland is strong.

That Ireland face Schmidt’s former head coach at Clermont, Vern Cotter, adds an element of intrigue to the final-day Six Nations fixture. If Gatland could produce a game plan to beat Ireland, what can Cotter do against his ex-assistant?

“Any Vern Cotter team will have a lot of dog in it,” says Ireland prop Mike Ross, “they will be aggressive at the breakdown, they will have a well-coached lineout and they will bring a lot of nous around the park, so I don’t expect Scotland to be any different.

Joe always gets a little glint in his eye whenever he comes up against his old boss; I think he quite enjoys getting one up on him. But I think Vern got one up on him the last time we played Clermont away with Leinster.”

In terms of improving on last weekend’s performance, Ross points to the manner in which Ireland learned from and got better after their 2013 defeat at home to New Zealand: “you could see that coming through in the game against Australia last year.”

So what is the underlying lesson from Cardiff?

“Just don’t get off to a bad start because if you are chasing a game 12 points down, if you give world-class goal-kickers like Halfpenny that opportunity, then you are going to be chasing your tail for a while.

“We did work very hard to get back in the game but ultimately the 12-point head start we gave them was the winning and losing of the game in the end.”

Mike Ross Ross is relaxed but keen to take the lessons from Wales on board. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ross says Ireland are “not going to go out and play seven” against Scotland despite the protestations about their attack in recent times, pointing to the intercept threats of Stuart Hogg and other Scotland backs as one reason for caution.

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Putting width on the ball will come as “appropriate,” but Ireland “are not going to just play wide for the sake of it.”

Frustratingly for Ross, Jack McGrath, Rory Best and the rest of the Ireland pack, there was little reward for an excellent scrum performance against Wales last time out in terms of penalties, but they did allow their backline to play off smooth possession once or twice.

The standard has been set to an extent, but Ross is maintaining calm in that sense too.

We’re happy enough but we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves either, considering Wales lost Samson Lee early on and Gethin Jenkins tweaked something in the warm-up, so I don’t think he was fully fit either,” explains Ross.

“We’re pleased with how we operated but Scotland have a very good pack. Euan Murray with a lot of experience, Ross Ford and Alasdair Dickinson, and Jim Hamilton adding a lot of weight in there.”

Ross is diplomatic in dealing with questions about that much-discussed final scrum penalty against Ireland last weekend, repeating the line that they are “awaiting feedback from referees on what exactly that was for.”

General view of a scrum Ireland's scrum was impressive against the Welsh. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It makes sense not to keep digging at that doubt publicly, as the most important game in Schmidt’s world is most often the next one. Ireland’s scrum looks to learn the lessons and bring them forward.

“I suppose the referees are really trying to clean it up, so we probably fell foul of that a little bit,” says Ross.

“At the same time, it is good to see they are paying attention to it and we will certainly be looking at any pictures we painted that might not have been to the referee’s liking and we will tidy it up this week.

Each referee will have his own strengths and weaknesses and you have to identify those and get on the right side of him.”

Ross is very much of the mind that Ireland’s learnings from Wales might “save us from learning the same lesson in the World Cup,” even if he continues to find losing hard to deal with.

That global tournament looms large in the background, and more immediately Ross wants to help Ireland secure back-to-back Six Nations titles.

“It would be a great achievement for this squad if we could do that, the back-to-back championships. It would have a huge one for us. It would certainly give us a good lift going into the World Cup. It is something we really want as a squad.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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