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'France only part of the job. Now we must do what we haven't done before, reach a semi-final'

Two of Ireland stalwarts promise that this time will be different.

Sean Farrell reports from Cardiff

THEY SAY IT so often that players can’t help but smile a wry smile when they have to utter the magic words again.

Week-to-week focus, game-by-game.

Yet when Ireland touched down in Wales to begin their World Cup journey, there were noises that they were approaching that opening Canada game with a point to prove after their last World Cup fixture – all the way back in Wellington, 2011.

This is the week the players involved then and now can put the grim experience to bed.

Mike Phillips celebrates around a dejected Paul O'Connell, Mike Ross and Cian Healy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After that seismic encounter against France, Ireland find themselves once again heading into the knock-out stage as pool winners. The result quickly prompted fans of the higher seed to scramble to swap tickets for ‘the wrong’ quarter-final bringing echoes 2011 when Ireland fans sung ‘did you think it would be you?’ at gold-shirted Australians showing up to watch an old Celtic rivalry unfold.

However, while Argentina’s brilliant form run in the Pool stage means nobody will be taking them lightly next Sunday, the men who played against Wales in Wellington can feel important differences in the way the squad is approaching this and every fixture.

“I think it is a bit,” said Mike Ross from behind his shiner when asked if this pool victory is any different to the last.

“Because we relied on an incredibly emotional performance against Australia. Now I think we’ve added a bit of system to that emotion. Hopefully we’re not relying on one-off performances and this will be the standard going on.”

Ireland team huddle Mike Ross Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

After sleeping on his game-breaking try, Rob Kearney sounded like a man who wasn’t going to take his extra build-up day easy, resting on laurels.

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“We were here four years ago,” said the fullback, “we topped the group and everyone thought we were brilliant. We thought we were brilliant and we went out and got pumped by a really good Wales team.

“So, we don’t have much time to sit around think about this great performance. We have to move on really quickly and I think, bar the Australians, the Argentinians have probably been the most impressive side.

Rory McIlroy shows some Irish players a few tips Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think as well we’re a very different team to four years ago. I think our mental strength, in the way we approach games on a week-to-week basis, has improved massively.”

Neither Ross or Kearney were around for the last World Cup meeting between Ireland and Argentina. The spectre of the game is brought up with Ross still smiling through the bruises caused by France with the arrival of a South American accent to the media heave.

El Caballero put it to Ross that this rivalry is a classic of the World Cup genre. Like Wales-Samoa, it’s perhaps a rung below the likes of New Zealand-France or Australia-England, but the games have been second to none in terms of bite.

“They’ve been fairly classic,” the prop says with a laugh before the memory of watching the games gives him a straight face.

Ronan O'Gara with Felipe Contepomi Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Well, there was one classic we’d like to forget – ’99 in Lens… and the one in France in 2007.

“They’re always quite tight, always physical. We always have respect for Argentina, because they’re a hell of a side to try and break down. They were third a couple of World Cups ago, so we know we’ll have our work cut out.”

When Joe Schmidt was asked to assess Argentina he said he hadn’t really seen much of them… before proceeding to list their starting XV with a line of praise for each of the starters and the possible variations that Daniel Hourcade may select. Ross is a more succinct analyst.

“Incredibly physical, strong defence and some really dangerous backs. When we played them a couple of summers ago it wasn’t their first team and they were still difficult to break down. The fact that they’ve got a few players back since it will make our job harder.”

“We’ll take confidence from (beating France), but that’s only part of the job now.

“What we have to do now is what we’ve never done before, get to a semi-final. We’ve got Argentina standing in the way. They’ve been doing nothing but bringing their level up because they’re playing (in the Rugby Championship) against three of the best teams in the world on a regular basis.”

Everyone can join the players on the same page now. Game by game.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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