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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 21 January 2021

Letter from Cardiff: The pressure rises in Ireland's World Cup campaign

The French camp appears to be utterly relaxed in contrast to a more uptight vibe at Ireland’s.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cardiff

WE’RE INTO THE World Cup proper now, make no mistake.

Last weekend in London already feels like a lifetime ago, all that exists is Ireland’s meeting with France in the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.

Peter O'Mahony Peter O'Mahony warms up at Ireland training yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joe Schmidt’s men moved into the Celtic Manor Resort on Monday afternoon and compared to their previous lodgings, it’s not the most ideal. Participating teams’ training bases at this point are decided by World Rugby and Ireland appear to have pulled the short straw.

The Celtic Manor hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010 and is a popular spot for visiting sports teams, but the spread-out nature of the grounds isn’t totally suited to Ireland’s needs. Their training pitch is a 15-minute bus trip down the road in Newport High School, where the pitch was said to be heavy early in the week.

In St. George’s Park, Ireland trained on a replica of Wembley, while the surface at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford last week was world-class too. Even the fact that Celtic Manor’s bedrooms are located a good stroll away from the team room and dining area brings a little more disjointedness.

The recovery facilities and brand-new gyms in the last two training locations aren’t quite replicated here. Not that Ireland are openly complaining. They will make the best of their preparation time, as they always do under Schmidt.

The French media descended on the first event of the week at Celtic Manor on Tuesday, bringing with them a presumption that Ireland will win this week. Simon Zebo was asked to speak en français but declined with a promise to do so for a bigger game.

They don’t come much bigger than this one, that point made clear by the swollen number of journalists in the mixed zone. On Wednesday afternoon, the Irish press returned the favour by heading over to the Vale Resort in Glamorgan, although we were fewer in number.

Noting just how many writers, cameramen, photographers and presenters were waiting for Uini Atonio, Alexandre Dumoulin and Brice Dulin was genuinely eye-opening. Rugby is a huge product in l’Hexagone and the demand for coverage is almost insatiable.

General view Millennium Stadium The Millennium Stadium will be full again this weekend.

In contrast to the more restrained Ireland pressers, this was as relaxed as you could hope for, the truly enormous Atonio happily sitting and conversing even after the dictaphones had been switched off.

In terms of the set-up in the Vale Resort, France are clearly the better off ahead of Sunday’s clash. With their plush hotel sitting a Freddie Michalak grubber’s distance from the numerous state-of-the-art training pitches, it’s the perfect spot.

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There was a relaxed vibe around the place, and one wonders what Schmidt would have made of it.

Earlier in the day, there was a narky undertone to some of the short answers Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby had delivered. An unhappiness at the line of questioning perhaps, maybe simply a fatigue at being in front of the media.

This whole week understandably feels far, far more pressurised. The biggest game of Ireland’s World Cup so far, after a poor performance against Italy, some criticism of individual players, and with expectations on this team higher than ever.

Ireland will expect to thrive in the heat of the Millennium Stadium on Sunday, but one just hopes that there remains a balance between the famously white-hot intensity of Ireland’s camp and a recognition that switching off is also a good thing.

A down day for Ireland on Thursday will allow the batteries to be recharged, and Ireland will probably look forward to the 30-minute move into Cardiff city centre on Saturday morning to check in at the Marriott hotel for the weekend.

Early morning mist covers part of the course Celtic Manor hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010. Source: Cathal Noonan

For those of us on the outside of the camp, it’s a pleasure to be back in Cardiff after a hectic last weekend in London. It was certainly a joy to take in events at Twickenham and Olympic Park, but we won’t miss the two-hour long commutes on the tube for now.

Strolling around the more intimate Cardiff is a relief in some ways, little details like the Animal Wall providing distractions from rugby, however brief. We’re probably eating far too much but Burger & Lobster has been hard to resist.

In Cardiff, there’s not really any escape from the oval ball game, even if there won’t be a fixture in the Millennium Stadium until Sunday.

I don’t really like the rugby me, a local might insist.

But actually, now that you say it… Warren Gatland is doing a fine job, eh? Johnny Sexton is so important for you Irish. What about that comeback from Romania? Fiji were fantastic to watch…

It’s been a bloody great tournament, hasn’t it?

No disagreement here.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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