Murrayfield ideal place to get mojo back
LAST March, the opening paragraph of the Irish Independent's preview of the Ireland versus Scotland match went a little something like this: "An Irish victory today is as predictable as the 'what's under your kilt?' question that Scottish supporters will trade on in Temple Bar this weekend." Whoops.
Apparently, that piece of dogmatism was honoured with pride of place on Scotland's dressing-room wall and may have played a small part in a shock, Triple Crown-denying victory that completely spiked the Croke Park farewell do.
In our defence, the overwhelming evidence going into that encounter had it that Ireland could not lose.
After coming a cropper in Paris, Declan Kidney's side had fashioned fine victories over England and Wales while the Scots were coughing up winning positions against the Welsh, the English and, most damningly, the Italians.
Almost a year on, the situation has altered considerably. Ireland ran out on March 20 last with a sense of surety and belief that should have been too much for their jittery opponents.
However, since that reverse, 'confidence' is the word that has cropped up repeatedly in relation to Kidney's men, through the summer tour, November Internationals and first two rounds of the Six Nations.
It is such a decisive factor, and one that transcends the tangibles of natural ability or physical size. The English have it in spades right now.
You look at England's team-sheet and the names themselves do not inspire fear.
On paper, Tom Palmer and Louis Deacon would struggle to get into the second row in Munster, Leinster or Ulster; Nick Easter would not strike you as a particularly tall, strong, fast or skilful No 8; while James Haskell seemed to be all pecs and no penetration.
Toby Flood has the appearance of a trainee accountant while Shontayne, their New Zealand mercenary centre, seemed more Heap than Hape when he came on the scene next to the barrelling Mike Tindall, who himself appeared to make a mockery of a No 13 jersey that once contained the sublime skills of Jeremy Guscott.
But, throw confidence into the mix, as Martin Johnson has done successfully, and you get an explosive rugby force. How good would Ireland be if they were injected with that same self-belief?
It is an exciting prospect because, even without world-class performers such as Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe, Ireland were fantastic in certain facets against France last weekend, as their three tries to one emphasised.
Confidence would eradicate the fluffed passes and knock-ons currently riddling these Irish players and Murrayfield next weekend is the perfect chance to locate that missing ingredient.
The Scots drew on the confidence gained from their Croke Park triumph and used it to fashion excellent results in Argentina (twice) and at home to South Africa. However, after a decent showing in Paris, they looked woefully short on confidence (Sean Lamont aside) at home to Wales last time out, incapable of stringing coherent passages of play together and uncertain in defence.
Now, it is up to Ireland to prey on that insecurity and use Scotland as a springboard for the remainder of the tournament and on to the World Cup.
In the search for confidence, revenge for last season is not a bad place to start, while the fact that Scottish sides have no record of Heineken Cup achievement and are regular victims of Irish provinces in the Magners League should be another rallying point.
If Ireland play with the same verve they showed during their best passages against France, eradicate the errors and show a greater capacity to make calls on the hoof by playing what is in front of them, then Kidney's men have the capacity to cut loose.
There will be no glib dismissals of Scotland next week, that lesson has been painfully learnt, but Murrayfield 2011 would be the perfect occasion for this Irish team to rediscover its mojo and they should have the confidence to do exactly that.