The time for talk is almost over and with the 2008 Six Nations championship now just over a week away, Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan is clearly eager to get his teeth into a new tournament.
O’Sullivan and his captain Brian O’Driscoll travelled across to London’s Hurlingham Club on Wednesday to help launch this year’s Six Nations, acutely aware that the pressure is on Ireland to bounce back after a less-than-impressive World Cup display.
“There’s more pressure on me now because we’ve come off the back of a World Cup that wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped it would be. Now the challenge is to put the train back on the tracks,” admitted O’Sullivan, who will be challenged this term by two former Ireland coaches in England’s Brian Ashton and new Wales boss Warren Gatland.
“Ultimately that doesn’t change my job, I don’t start doing things differently because I’m under pressure. I’ll do the same as I do every day.
“If all the talk is going to make you act differently, then that’s a bad thing. You still have to be true to yourself and back yourself to get the job done.
“Sure people will talk and pressure will mount, but let’s get the job done and see what happens,” he added.
A lack of full-on match practice hampered Ireland badly during the World Cup, but O’Sullivan is confident that his troops, who are over halfway through the provincial season, are nicely poised to mount another Six Nations title challenge.
“This time of the year, with the amount of rugby the guys have played, they are at the prime of their season. They are battle-hardened as distinct from battle weary. Most guys are firing on all cylinders,” insisted the Corkman.
“You keep your fingers crossed with injuries and hopefully we will have a healthy squad. You’ve got to do what you want to do as a team. Everyone is ready to play rugby at this time of the year. The World Cup was like playing a Test series in the first week in September.”
Asked about his selection policy for the World Cup and his likely changes to the team for the Six Nations, the Irish coach said he is banking on a “form” and ultimately “consistent” squad, in line with previous seasons.
“I believe I got selection right during the World Cup because if I’d changed the team around, would it have transformed our performance?
“The answer to that is no because our performance at the World Cup wasn’t based on poor selection, it was based on the fact we didn’t play well as a unit. Changing the unit around wouldn’t have made any difference.
“It depends on how you want to skin that cat. You can do it very suddenly and slash and burn or you can gradually make those adjustments. The acid test for me is that if you’re going to put players into a Test environment, you have to be sure they are capable of performing in that environment.
“I have picked the squad based on the form guys while keeping an eye on the younger guys who are beginning to put their hands up.
“This year, for us, there have been a few guys have done that in the cauldron of the Heineken Cup and Magners League,” he surmised.
“The bigger picture is my job as Irish coach – and it is IRFU policy that we win as many Six Nations games as we can because that is our template for our season.
“We’ve done that since I’ve been coach. We’ve been pretty consistent in the Six Nations in my six years as coach. That’s why the squad I have named isn’t catastrophic in terms of changes.”
O’Sullivan, who names his 22-man squad for the February 2 opener against Italy on Friday, also discussed the appointment of an Ireland team manager, backs coach and sports pyschologist, which were recommendations which came out of the Genesis report on the World Cup.
“It’s important not to victimise yourself on a timeline and force people into those positions because there’s a Six Nations starting next week.
“The danger in that is you may not get the best man for the job so it’s better to sit back and create some breathing space. Those appointments will be made before the summer tour so we can bring in the best people for the job. There is no rush.
“Maybe I’m naive but I don’t see the problem with the changes. We’re always looking to change things for the better,” he said.