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Players See It As ‘Just Another Game’ – McNaughton

Players See It As ‘Just Another Game’ – McNaughton

Ireland versus England at Croke Park is a massive fixture in the context of Irish sport and Saturday’s game could go a long way to deciding the outcome of this year’s RBS 6 Nations, but Irish team manager Paul McNaughton insisted that for the players it will just be business as usual.

Taking on England in the RBS 6 Nations has always had an added spice to it. Croke Park will be packed to the rafters for the latest tussle between Ireland and their arch rivals but talk of 2007’s historic win has been scarce enough in the Irish camp this week.

Giving an insight into the squad’s mood, team manager Paul McNaughton said: “The last game at Croke Park two years was a big historical occasion, even more so than being part of the Championship or part of the Grand Slam.

“This year, two years on, that historical occasion is over and it will never be repeated.

“But now there’s more of a sense that this is the third game in the Championship and it’s a game we need to win and if we win this we’ll have a shout at the Championship come the last game – no matter what happens in all the other results.

“I think there’s a sense that it’s another game, it’s going to be a very tough game.

“The historical context is gone out of it and it’s more a step towards a Championship, that’s what the players are thinking about.”

McNaughton said that England’s improved display last time out against Wales was probably good for the Irish set-up, given that it has quashed any expectations that Brian O’Driscoll and company will repeat their 43-13 hammering of two years ago.

“A lot of the players in this squad have been beaten by England well and they’ve beaten England well. They’ve probably had a equal share of wins and losses over the last six or eight years.

“Teams are getting stronger in the Six Nations, so it’s just really a matter of getting on with it.

“They know England are strong, they know England played better two weeks ago against Wales. And that’s probably a good thing from our point of view because if England had played badly there would have been more pressure from the British media on (Martin) Johnson and more expectations maybe in Ireland.

“The fact that England did play well against Wales keeps everybody on their toes and everybody here on their toes as well.”

Ireland, who currently sit top of the RBS 6 Nations table, are obviously very determined to make up for previous disappointments and secure the country’s first Championship title since 1985.

They went ever so close under previous coach Eddie O’Sullivan, 2007 being the closest when France pipped them on points scoring difference.

So is the lack of a Championship trophy in the cabinet a huge motivational factor for the Irish players?

“I think some of the players feel that they’ve let a couple of Championships go,” McNaughton explained.

“The majority of this team has been the most successful team, in terms of trophies, that Ireland has ever had with three triple Crowns.

“They have achieved but obviously they feel that they’ve left a Championship or Grand Slam behind. They’re very motivated by that.

“They’re very anxious to finish their careers with a Championship or Grand Slam, given that that has evaded them in the past.

“Even though the Triple Crown seems to have been somewhat devalued in some quarters, it’s still a fair achievement. As a group they have achieved a lot but they haven’t achieved their ultimate”