Thursday 8 December 2016

Laughter the best medicine for revived Ireland

Ireland squad have a spring in their step as they bid to end disappointing Six Nations on a high

Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30

Ireland's Andrew Trimble. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Ireland's Andrew Trimble. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile

Anarchy has erupted in Carton House.

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Irish players are blatantly laughing behind the backs of the coaching staff. Sometimes in front of them.

The infamous 'Monday video reviews' are now an almost tedious illustration of the coaches' rigorous attention to detail; asked to assess Italy's two tries, Joe Schmidt had mentioned video review with all the bloodthirsty relish of a dentist brandishing his drill.

Heck, even the press pack, who couldn't care less, smiled nervously as if to empathise with Rory Best.

This Monday was different, however.

Late in the game, anticipating yet another line-break on the opposite right wing, Keith Earls shows impressive speed to accelerate from his 22 into the gaping open field beneath the East Stand.

Earls almost arrived in the opposition half; the ball never followed; imperceptibly, one can see the sheepish Earls trudging slowly back into the defensive line.

One always wants to avoid the coaching call-out; instead, it was his fellow players who showered him with strident mock-deprecation.

"He had no idea what line he was trying to take himself," chuckles Andrew Trimble. The coaches, momentarily liberated themselves, nodded approvingly.

School's almost out for summer and the kids are alright. Sometimes it does a fella good to let loose.

The smiles have returned to Irish rugby; as much as the squad will have countered that they never went away, anyone who endured that grim defeat in Paris cannot recall too many upside-down frowns bouncing about the place.

"That's the effect a win has," offers Trimble in explanation of the renewed mood. "Everyone has a sigh of relief and gets on with it."

The coaches may do their leader's bidding in an attempt to stifle insurrectionist jauntiness and maintain their steadfast pursuit of stats and game-plans and play-books ad (magnam) nauseam.

Amiable assistant Richie Murphy tries to publicly parrot the party line - "I haven't seen a massive shift in how the guys feel or how the guys are approaching this game on the back of that (Italy)" - but it is utterly arrant nonsense.

The mood - and the siege mentality - has been lifted.

If the players did not have their feelings ferried to a different postcode thanks to the nine-try romp against Italy, then their hearts must be unyielding to even the tiniest flicker of emotion; mercifully, these Irishmen remind us on March 17 that to be so demands an absence of excessive sanctimony and a surfeit of giddy humour.

And so they chortled and rollicked their way through much of the early part of this week, even spraying the normally austere video review with their unrestrained laughter.

"If anything this week, we'd a laid-back enough day on Monday," reports Trimble.

"We'd a bit of get-together with the coffee guys, the Bewley's barista who came fourth in some championship. That was a big of a giggle. And then laughing at Earlsy in the video review."

Latte art was the focus and the squad's artist, Cian Healy, unsurprisingly carried off the hamper by creamily copying a self-image atop his cup; sadly, Luke Marshall's cup spilleth over, the victim of an unfortunate knock-on.

The effervescence that oozed through on Saturday has been prolonged, hopefully for long enough to propel Ireland towards a similar success this weekend.

"Obviously there is going to be massive intensity this weekend but it's nice to remember we're out here to enjoy ourselves and we do that by winning matches and playing good rugby," says Trimble.

"That's what we want to do. As much as we're a little bit laid-back at times, we are then we turn the screw when we're on the pitch and we get our standards back through the roof again.

"Just getting that balance is very good and Joe driving that."

Schmidt is not necessarily the comic villain painted and tainted by caricature; that fourth try before half-time was as much his reward as it was the players'.

"It's a big emphasis of Joe, that when someone makes that line-break that we get up and support and don't get too bogged down in what the next phase is," explains Trimble.

"If we get a line-break, all bets are off, just try and play. Ultimately, we just want to play rugby. That's why we're here.

"We played when we were youngsters because you got the ball in your hand and played a bit of rugby. That's what we did and when Jamie Heaslip got over, so we got the reward."

Ireland hope that lightening the mood off the field can continue to translate to liberation on it. The stakes remain high, for all the fixture's appearance of being a dead rubber.

"For us, really, coming fifth isn't acceptable from our point of view," he adds.

"The good thing is we have a spring in our step now."

And a smile in their hearts.

Irish Independent

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