Ireland team manager Mick Kearney gave a sense of the positive mood in camp as Andy Farrell’s men approach their second pool match of the Rugby World Cup.
Lying a point clear at the top of Pool B, Ireland will travel west from Tours to Nantes for Saturday’s clash with a Tonga side that beat Canada twice (28-3 and 36-12) in their last two warm-up fixtures.
This is Kearney’s second time to be involved in a senior World Cup. He brings a huge amount of experience and nous having previously been manager under both Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt, before stepping down in 2016.
Given his deep knowledge of the Ireland set-up, his canny business skills acquired over many years as a successful entrepreneur, and the trust built up between himself and the players, the Meath man returned in a non-rugby mentorship role with the squad in 2020.
Then, with Ger Carmody appointed as the IRFU director of operations last year, Andy Farrell asked Kearney to resume his old position of manager. He says he is ‘privileged to be involved in such an incredible environment with genuinely good people all around me’.
He was hugely proud of what the team achieved during his four years working with Schmidt, noting that the environment was ‘incredible’ too back then, and that ‘whether it’s a head coach or CEO, they always bring their own mark and style of coaching and management and looking after players and people’.
Having been in the dressing room for Ireland’s historic series win in New Zealand and this year’s Grand Slam triumph, Kearney says that the hard work being put in behind the scenes, and the structures Farrell has put in place, have them in good shape for further success.
“I would say confidence and belief are very high and I think that comes from a number of factors. Going back to when Andy came in after 2019, there was a lot of talk about the players being themselves and being happy very much in the environment,” he explained.
“Having that openness and ability to kind of speak out, the ability to very much be themselves and work together and ask questions.
“In the early days, Andy would say there is no such thing as a silly question or bad question and he doesn’t have to say that anymore as the players are very open with each other.
“I also think the staff and the players, there is an incredible connection between both groups. The staff, they’re just so humble and hard-working and just want to do their best for the team, which permeates down through the team, the players as well. They really appreciate it.
“From a player point of view, there’s no egos, they’re incredibly humble. There’s an incredible work ethic between the staff and the players. The coaching team are working so hard to make the players better, which in turn builds the confidence and the belief.
I don’t think it’s something that you can build overnight. It’s something that’s been building for the last four years really. I see now where everybody is comfortable in the system. They train hard, their habits are really good.
“The coaches are drilling good habits into them, morning, noon and night, and I think the players have really embraced the challenge of being the best version of themselves every day.
“I think the backroom staff, whether it be in nutrition or S&C or medical or operations, I think that they really step up to the plate in giving that support and being the best version of themselves every day as well.”
Ireland’s final training session of the week in Tours, their team base for the pool stages, saw Jack Conan (foot) back on the pitch but he has been ruled out of contention for the Tonga game.
Dan Sheehan (foot), Robbie Henshaw (hamstring) and Dave Kilcoyne (hamstring) have all resumed full training, with Kearney giving the assembled media an injury update yesterday.
“We had a very good training session (today) and everybody came through that really well. Jack was out running which was really positive and while Saturday will come a little bit early for him, I think the signs are really positive for him in terms of being available to train fully next week.
“Hopefully he’ll be available for South Africa (next week). That’s his first session for the last few days. He’s been doing most of his rehab in the gym with the physios, and today was obviously a very big day for him in terms of getting out and running.
“He ran really well and was really positive and in a good place afterwards. The other three players were all integrated fully into training and trained fully today, so that’s a positive as well,” he added.
The Ireland team to play Tonga will be announced at a press conference this afternoon at Westotel Nantes Atlantique.