'We were trying to get him to sing 'Joxer Goes To Twickenham' but he couldn’t pull it off!'

Ireland aren’t getting distracted with a Grand Slam on the line in London this weekend.

THERE’S A SKIP in the step of everyone around Carton House this week, spirits naturally high as Ireland head into their Grand Slam shot on Saturday.

That said, while Joe Schmidt’s squad are exuding a certain sense of confidence and exuberance in their body language, they’re all staying on message when it comes to their words.

‘Process-focused’ is the desperately boring phrase of the week in the Maynooth team base, as everyone outside the Ireland group gets openly excited about a possible Grand Slam.

While it might be a dull way of viewing things, it appears to be true – Ireland are approaching this game like any other. The same habits, the same routines, the same methods of preparation and, they hope, the same positive outcome as their last 11 games.

Though it is all very serious in the build-up to the clash with England, Schmidt did allow his players to unwind on Monday evening as the legendary Christy Moore popped in to play a few of his classic tunes.

“We were trying to get him to sing ‘Joxer Goes To Twickenham’ but he couldn’t pull it off!” says Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy with a smile.

There wasn’t a hint of a celebratory tone to the evening, however, with Ireland taking very little time to reflect on their achievement of a third championship in five years following the win over Scotland last weekend.

“On Saturday, the guys were obviously happy to win the championship but the focus flipped pretty quickly,” says Murphy.

“You come into this situation, you know you have five games, each one of those games you try to win – things have not changed. We have won four of them, we have one to go.

“The things that have stood us in good stead over those first four weeks will bring us into Saturday and whatever happens on Saturday, winning a championship was really good, but if there is something more on the back of it, then that will be a great thing.”

The confidence within Ireland’s group is not borne only of winning games, but also from the fact that Schmidt’s players have been opening the opposition up.

A general view of training Ireland training at Carton House yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

While some of their scores have come from close-range, there has been impressive variety in Ireland’s attacking play in this championship and a total of 17 tries in their four games so far underlines the edge they feel they currently have when in possession.

“I think all the guys are pretty confident with how we have planned things out, understanding their different roles within that,” says Murphy.

“When we look through the game [against Scotland] we will see a hell of a lot of opportunities that we did not take – whether we didn’t throw a pass or different little things we could have done better.

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“I don’t think we will ever play a perfect game of rugby but going forward to this Saturday, we are going to have to be pretty close to it to win in Twickenham.”

Schmidt and his coaching staff have a belief that the best is yet to come from Ireland in this Six Nations and there is also a recognition that “the performances that have we put in so far probably won’t be good enough” in Twickenham.

If Saturday’s clash is as tight as expected and if it goes down to the endgame, there is some reassurance for Ireland that they have come through a major test of their mettle late on in a game in this Six Nations already.

Out-half Johnny Sexton was the man to deliver at the end of those unforgettable 41 phases, and having the 32-year-old in their 10 shirt for this potentially history-making encounter in London will fill others with belief.

“I think he is in a really good place,” says Murphy of Sexton, with whom he has worked for years at Leinster and with Ireland. “He has obviously had a lot of change in his life over the last while with a couple of kids coming along, so you can see a different side to him.

Rory Best and Johnny Sexton Rory Best and Johnny Sexton at training yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He is obviously a fair bit more mature than he was maybe at the start. He has got other worries which is probably a good thing for him because it will distract him from the game.

“But I think he is in a really good place, he is really hungry, he just wants to get better. He is one of those guys that although he knows a helluva lot about the game will take feedback and will work on it week-in, week-out.”

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Murray Kinsella

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