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First Ireland win in Cardiff in a decade will have to be quickly left behind as France loom into view


Stuart McCloskey is tackled by Taulupe Faletau of Wales at the Principality Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Stuart McCloskey is tackled by Taulupe Faletau of Wales at the Principality Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Stuart McCloskey is tackled by Taulupe Faletau of Wales at the Principality Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

If the Ireland players are moving past the ghost of 2019, well there was no getting away from it inside the Principality Stadium in the hours before kick-off on Saturday.

The two big screens at either end of the pitch replayed the full match of Ireland’s walloping by Wales at the venue four years ago. Instead of Warren Gatland trying to get inside Irish heads with press conference quotes, why not just go direct and beam out those images from four years ago instead? Subtlety can be overrated.

Conor Murray was one of the first Ireland players out on the pitch to warm-up and he seemed to take a brief look up at the big screen as that 2019 game was coming to a close. Who knows if it registered with him.

Maybe he thought, ‘Move on Wales, we have’. He had more immediate matters to concern himself with.

You only had to hear snippets of the conversations on Westgate Street outside the stadium before the game to hear the names of Murray and Jamison Gibson-Park after the news broke on Saturday morning of the change at scrum-half.

One of the big lines around Ireland is how opposition teams might go about disrupting their play. However, there are no bigger disrupters of Ireland’s plan than Ireland themselves.

In the latest example of dealing with late personnel changes, the way Ireland absorbed the absence of two of their most influential players – Gibson-Park and Tadhg Furlong – shows a striking adaptability.

Andy Farrell even joked after the game that he wished the team bus was later arriving at the stadium just to see how players responded.

In truth, and as the outstanding opening 20 minutes showed, Ireland coped just fine, as they’ve been making a habit of doing.

The significance of recording a first Six Nations win in Cardiff in a decade is another marker in the timeline of this Irish team.

As historic as the series win was in New Zealand last summer, Farrell’s men had to back it up by going to Wales and correcting a big stain on the record books.

But each had their own drivers too. Stuart McCloskey made his first Six Nations start since his debut seven years ago. He said after the win that the in-between years were tough to take at times.

“Yeah, there have been times when I was disheartened. I was playing well. I wasn’t getting picked but I didn’t have a leg to stand on because the lads were playing really well and Ireland were winning,” he said.

“It was probably the best period of Irish rugby, especially at centres, we’ve ever really had, depth-wise. It was tough at times but I like to take a bit of heart from the fact I stayed in there and finally got a chance.

“I’ve played four games, we’ve won all four. I don’t think that’s all down to me, particularly, but it’s nice to win the games when you’re playing.”

It was his wife, Hannah, who kept him believing.

“She’d be the one when I was disheartened by the whole thing at times and thinking about going away and playing in different places. But she felt that if I stuck at it that maybe I would get a chance and I’d regret it if I did go. So it’s turned out alright,” McCloskey added.

It will be a nervy few days ahead for the players looking to retain their place on the team. The impact off the bench of Bundee Aki – while it’s not known yet if Robbie Henshaw will definitely be fit – will make 12 another interesting call when Farrell names his team for Saturday’s visit of France.

It is being billed as a potential Grand Slam decider; not that Garry Ringrose is framing it like that.

“I don’t think so, no. In my experience of the Six Nations, everyone has the ability to beat everyone. Everyone is vulnerable to losing to everyone. One week at a time, raise our game against a team that we lost to last year in Paris and the year before in the Aviva. That will be the focus,” he said.

“We will have to be really dialled in to not let them through us with their power game, as well as being able to defend the serious try-scorers that they have on the edge out wide.”

Ireland will quickly leave behind that victory in Cardiff. They have to, considering what’s coming next.

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