‘Conor Murray came from nowhere and got a spot on the plane’

RARELY HAVE IRELAND approached a World Cup in as strong a position as they currently find themselves.

They were ranked third in the world under Eddie O’Sullivan before the 2003 version, of course, but a quarter-final exit at the hands of France was comprehensive. Strong words about being contenders in 2007 infamously fell short of the mark.

Mike Ross at Life Style Sports, Grafton Street as they launched the Ireland World Cup jersey. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Buoyed by back-to-back Six Nations successes, one might have thought that Ireland would be heading into this World Cup with a wave of widespread confidence behind them.

That hasn’t quite been the case so far though. The rugby nation has generally been measured in their prediction of what is to come, realistically looking at a semi-final position as within our grasp and acknowledging that what comes after that is unknown.

The calm approach will certainly lift a few degrees when next month’s warm-up Tests get underway, but the influential message from Schmidt’s camp remains the same.

“We have a series of tough games coming up and we want to make sure that we know exactly what we’re doing and that we deliver on what’s expected of us.”

Ross mentions the “process” as the only thing Ireland are focusing on as their pre-season schedule continues, stating that Schmidt hasn’t yet broached the topic of Pool D and the waiting Canada, Romania, Italy and France with his players.

The Kiwi coach is one of the factors that provides Ireland with confidence, his track record of major success allowing both players and supporters to believe that they can compete.

Ross is pleased that Schmidt is sticking around until 2017. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ross welcomed Schmidt’s contract extension until 2017, saying that he would back the New Zealander for the Lions head coaching role that same year, even if “I’d have mixed emotions” about him leaving Ireland.

“You always have to be on your toes,” said Ross of Schmidt’s coaching. “If you don’t know your detail that’s the one unforgivable sin. Everyone has to be clued in and switched on and know exactly what they’re doing.

“It’s not like he’s a one size fits all. He tailors things for the teams we’re playing and their specific individual weaknesses.

Ross has been working with Schmidt since he arrived at Leinster from Clermont in 2010, enjoying major success at the province under his guidance. The tighthead has also started every Ireland game since Schmidt took the national team reins.

Even when Ross was dropped by Matt O’Connor at Leinster last season, Schmidt kept faith in the veteran for the Six Nations, who says it was a much-needed boost. Nonetheless, their long-standing relationship doesn’t mean Ross’ place is automatic.

“I wouldn’t see him socially!” said Ross. “We’ve been involved since he came to Leinster in 2010 so that’s five years, he’s a decent human being too and we get on well enough. If I didn’t perform for him, there would be no sentimentality there.”

Ross ploughs into contact during last season’s Six Nations.

With that in mind, and Marty Moore, Tadhg Furlong and Michael Bent all in Ireland’s extended World Cup training squad, as well as the recently added Nathan White, Ross feels next month’s games against Wales, Scotland and England are vital.

“We have four Tests coming up,” said Ross. “They are not friendlies and they are not really warm-ups as such. There will be a lot of highly-motivated players because there is no World Cup squad picked yet for any of the teams.

Ross is unsure how much game time he will amass in the run of fixtures that begins in Cardiff on 8 August, but he points out that most players would like at least three run-outs to get towards fitness.

Pre-World Cup injuries seem likely in this attritional sport, but Ross isn’t wasting his time worrying.

“If you go in trying to mind yourself, that’s when you get injured. If you’re not going full bore at someone, they’ll run into you full bore and you’re more likely to get injured.
You just have to treat it as another game.”

Life Style Sports has announced that, should the Irish rugby team become world champions on 31 October, it will refund anyone who buys the new Irish rugby jersey in Life Style Sports this weekend (24, 25, or 26 July).

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