‘You need to be a happy squad’: Ireland aim for balance between work and fun

GALWAY IN JULY feels a long way from the intense heat and humidity of Yokohama in September, but on the day Ireland’s World Cup jersey was launched, there is no doubt that preparations are now moving through the gears.

After a two-week block of training in Carton House, Joe Schmidt’s squad — now up to 45 players after the addition of Ulster’s fit-again Will Addison — concluded their third phase of work with an open session at the Sportsground.

Murray during this morning’s session in Galway. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

You only had to witness the intensity in which this morning’s session was run at, as players combined ball and skills work with strength and conditioning units, to appreciate that the hard work has very much started.

While a sold-out Sportsground crowd generated a relaxed and colourful atmosphere, the players were put through their paces by Schmidt and the coaching staff, working up a serious sweat before their weekend off. There was nothing light about this session.

The main focus for Ireland in this first phase of World Cup prep has been to build up the fitness levels again, cognisant of the draining conditions awaiting them in Japan and the demanding nature of a tournament schedule.

“It’s a time of year that you enjoy, getting fit and working really hard with the lads to get yourself in as good a shape as possible come game time,” Conor Murray explains.

“Strength and conditioning has been the main thing we’ve been looking at with a little bit of rugby integrated. Within all of our drills, our fitness drills, there’s always a rugby angle to it. Something like a technique or a movement that we will be using in a rugby game and it comes in as part of our conditioning, our running type elements.

“So, that’s been integrated slowly and it’s going to increase as the weeks progress.”

Ireland will continue their preparations when they move on to Munster’s high-performance training facility in University of Limerick next week, before focus turns to that first warm-up fixture against Italy on 10 August.

Already the squad have spent three weeks in each other’s company, firstly in their usual surroundings of Carton House and then this week in Galway, and the hope is that they will be together as a unit until late November.

With just over 70 days until the opening game against Scotland, and a 10-day trip to Portugal and those four warm-up fixtures to come in the interim, striking the right balance between hard work and downtime will be key for Schmidt and the management.

“There’s a great balance,” Murray, sitting in the Sportsground clubhouse, continues.

The scrum-half chatting to media. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Some lads on the down days like to play a bit of golf, some lads like to go for a swim and chill out. That freedom is there and I think the coaches and management are really good at that, giving us our own time. Lads are well used to touring and being away from home.

“It’s quite a laid-back atmosphere when we’re away from the pitch and there is a natural kind of friendship around the lads. It’s a very easy place to be.”

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Keeping things fresh within camp is always going to be a challenge, but Murray explains that the group has been able to tread that fine line between tuning in for the hard work and then switching off for the activities off the pitch.

“It’s great craic,” the Munster scrum-half smiles. “It’s an unbelievable place to be and I’m not just saying that. This group has been around together for a while now. You’ve got great mates, you’ve lads who you get on really well with. The slagging is always good.

“We’ve a fine balance of it. Last night we had a quiz in the evening and that went down really well. Lads can switch off, go for coffee. Anything, lads are always up to something. There’s always a group to go away and do something with.

“I played at a U20 World Cup in Japan and it’s a lot different to everywhere else I’ve toured so it’s going to be pretty special, please God.”

As for the serious business, Ireland have moved on from the disappointment of the Six Nations, leaving it in the rearview mirror ahead of the defining block for this group, while taking on board the mistakes made and lessons learned.

A lot of water still has to pass under the bridge between those pool games against Scotland, hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa, but Murray knows Ireland can ill-afford to start games like they did during this year’s championship.

“The start of a game is massive, especially in a World Cup,” he adds. “When you’re expected to win games, if you give a team a bit of life and they get a bit of belief and momentum, suddenly it turns into a really tough day. It’s about being really clinical and sharp at the beginning and throughout. 

Murray modelling Ireland’s World Cup jersey with Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Overall, it’s been really positive pre-season and there’s a fresh feeling amongst the group coming back here getting down to work and I think everyone from players, coaching staff and outside staff is aware of what this group is capable of.

“I don’t think we’re going to be painted or reviewed based on that Six Nations. I think this group has been through an awful lot together. 

“There’s an awful lot of motivation in this squad, whether you be experienced or relatively inexperienced, it’s a chance to go to a World Cup on the world stage and show what you can do when a lot of eyes are on you.”

Still early days, but the signs are that things are building nicely. 

Canterbury and the IRFU have today unveiled the new Irish Rugby World Cup 2019 team and supporter range. Headlined by a jersey like no other incorporating advanced technology and cutting-edge design, the range will be worn by the Ireland Rugby team in Japan as the team competes on the world stage. The new Ireland Rugby World Cup 2019 range is available from shop.irishrugby.ie and canterbury.com. 

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