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Just bring on Twickenham

It wasn't the defeat by France on Saturday that was shocking. It was the nature of Ireland's 33-10 awful trouncing that proved traumatic.

As the gods of RTé's television analysis belched smoke and flame and decreed the French to have been magnificent, there were many savvy viewers who advised getting a grip. The more painful reality was that, after 20 minutes of resolute grafting, Ireland gifted the French practically every score.

In the cold light of the morning after, Ireland's defeat seemed even more distressing. With injuries that could see us deprived of two of Ireland's Lions (Fitzgerald and Kearney), a threat hanging over Jerry Flannery for wild indiscretion and positional problems for coach Declan Kidney, could the wheels be in danger of coming off our rugby flagship?



expectation

In search of answers, and hopefully closure on the Paris debacle, I seek the views of two of our more dependable talents, Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip.

There's no point skirting around the issue. Were the Irish errors a result of the public's expectation of further Grand Slam glory or did the French force Ireland into an uncharacteristic litany of mistakes?

Despite the disappointment, Bowe, who earned his 27th cap on Saturday, remains professionally optimistic.

"We've had public expectation now for a lot of matches," he says. "But I think we had put ourselves under a lot of expectation. We firmly believed as a squad that we were going to go over there and do the business. Everybody knows that it's not an easy task to go there and do that. It was unlike us. We've won our matches in the past from keeping penalties to a minimum and not forcing these passes and having knock ons and silly errors. And that's what's cost us.

"We feel we've let ourselves down," he adds.

Surely Ireland's jittery performance couldn't have been the result of nervousness? Jamie Heaslip remains diplomatic. "I don't think any of the players would have been nervous," he says without flinching.

"We've all played in big games and there's a lot of experience throughout the squad. Even the younger guys wouldn't have been nervous. They'd have been more excited than anything. I know Cian (Healy) was bouncing off the walls the day of the game."

"Jamie is one of those who leads from the front. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy. Tells it like it is.

"I don't think nerves would have been a big factor," he muses. "I just think (sigh) ... I don't know ... er ... it just didn't ... er ... some passes went astray. Sometimes ... er ... I can't put my finger on it. Sometimes it just happens. I don't think it was nervous.

"You could see for the first 20 minutes it was a bloody stalemate. Almost. There wasn't a scrum for almost the first 20 minutes. There wasn't any nervousness especially with the quality of the players who were out there. They (France) were just better at closing us down."

Okay, maybe not nervous. But perhaps too wound-up?

Could that have been a deciding factor in giving France the edge?

"Jeez, I dunno," says the number eight. "I'm never gonna to get into whether players are over-psyched or not. Everyone has to do their own things before a game to get themselves ready.

"When things like that happen, it's in the blink of an eye. Half the time you're not even thinking when you're playing. You're going off instinct. Things happen. You've just got to get on with it."

Both Bowe and Heaslip seem a bit discommoded. This has been Ireland's first loss after a run of 12 games undefeated. No one likes losing. Especially these guys.

"People were very disappointed," says Bowe. "Because we haven't lost in a long time. We're professional players. It's our job to pick ourselves up after that. We've done it in the past. It's a great motivation going to Twickenham (next)."

"After the Six Nations people were expecting a bit of a downer," he says. "Into the autumn we picked it up again. Going to France was never going to be easy.

"But we still have an awful lot to play for in this tournament. Obviously after a loss things are going to have to be looked at. But we're definitely going in the right direction."

Heaslip relishes the opportunity to test himself against England. "They're going to be a handful," he insists.

"They've got a big auld pack so we'll have to do our work and make sure we can provide a lot of quick ball. We showed in the Italy and France games that when we had quick ball we posed a lot of problems. It's just that we didn't get enough of it."



lamented

The Grand Slam is out of the equation now but there's still plenty to play for. And not just the Triple Crown.

"There's still a Six Nations to be won," declares Jamie.

"Plenty of teams have won the Six Nations by losing one game. You lose games. You've got to be able to bounce back and be more consistent."

One of the many public voices of rugby wisdom (I forget which) that I heard after the match on Saturday lamented Ireland's foresight in not trying to up their score from penalties or drop goals in case the Championship should end level on points.

Will Ireland be going gung-ho to score a few tries now?

Heaslips remains patient. "From what I've learned from playing Heineken Cup is you can't go into a game like that thinking, 'We've got to score tries,'" he replies.

"Because then you start firing the ball around and next thing you know there's an intercept try and you're behind by seven or something stupid like that.

"You've got to go out and win first and build up a lead. You can't push the game. You've got to let it develop and go with your game plan. You could look at when we played Wales last year. They had to win by 20-something points to win the Championship but you didn't see them going out and throwing it about."

Ireland's next chance to get back tom winning ways is at Twickenham next week. Heaslip would be happy if he was playing England this weekend.

"From what we saw of them in November, they love their set piece," he notes. "We done pretty well in our set piece.

"We reckon we can go at them in the set piece and cause them a lot of problems and hopefully get the edge and see what happens after that."


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