Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal believes that the players can put recent results beyond him and produce ‘something special’ over the coming weeks in New Zealand.
Injuries to Felix Jones and David Wallace have hampered Ireland’s preparations for the Rugby World Cup, while they failed to post a win during their warm-up run of four Tests.
However, forwards coach Gert Smal is confident that those results will fade into distant memory once the men in green start to play as he knows they can.
“If you look at Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Leo Cullen, we have a lot of leadership,” explained Smal, speaking at the team hotel in Queenstown.
“There’s something special in these players and we believe that can be transferred onto the field. We just have to put it together now.
“We didn’t get the results we wanted in the warm-up games, but in terms of the planning we were absolutely spot on.
“We still have a lot of confidence in the players, they know what they have inside them and what they can do as a team.
“We’d like to have had a couple of wins behind us, but that’s not the be-all and end-all.”
Spirit in the camp is high and with a carefully plotted pre-season regime behind them, O’Driscoll and the rest of the squad are in prime condition to launch Ireland’s World Cup bid against the USA on Sunday week.
Smal’s first season as Ireland’s forwards coach was crowned by the Grand Slam success and the big South African, with his experience of 2007 World Cup glory, recognises similarities between the title-winning Springboks and this current Irish side.
“In 2007 we played Connacht before the tournament and nearly lost that game. We played Scotland and struggled against them as well.
“But the players still had a lot of confidence in themselves and there was a lot of team unity. Because of our history, South African rugby has been full of provincialism and groups tended to form.
“When the Bulls beat the Sharks in the Super 14 final that year, everyone thought the Bulls would be arrogant but they had a feeling for the Sharks.
“A bond formed that made the South Africa squad very strong and that helped a lot. That same bond I can detect here with Ireland.”
As an assistant coach, Smal was a key cog in the South African management when they triumphed in France four years ago. He has shared his experiences of back then with the Irish coaching staff, even arranging for a meeting between his former boss Jake White and Declan Kidney.
“I have tried to share as much as possible of my 2007 World Cup experience with Declan and the management as well.
“Right back at the beginning when I joined Ireland (in 2008), I organised for Declan to sit down with Jake. Jake had to come in (to Ireland) for an IRB meeting and I just organised for them to see each other at the airport.
“It was just a quick in and out, maybe an hour, two hours. They sat down and went through everything, which I think was a good thing.”
Smal has praised Kidney for how well-planned Ireland’s build-up to the World Cup has been. The training camps at Carton House have laid the platform for what is hoped to be Ireland’s best ever performance on rugby’s biggest stage.
The August Test matches, and the midweek game against Connacht, allowed the players to get some game-time in their legs and move a step or two closer to peaking in New Zealand.
The Americans are first up in New Plymouth next weekend. It is a much-borrowed phrase but the ‘one game at a time’ approach is the simple but effective bedrock of the most successful teams in international sport.
“The key to a successful World Cup is planning. I have to compliment Declan, he’s done an outstanding job up until now,” added Smal.
“Another crucial element is that it doesn’t matter where you are ranked in the world, on the day you have to perform.
“You can only look at the next game. You pick the games off one by one and then after the pool matches you look at where you are. That’s the approach we took in 2007.
“In terms of the pre-season, organising game-time and getting to where we are at the moment, the whole preparation has been spot on. Now we must start producing.”