Coaches and players often talk about the importance of getting off to a good start in a big game. And if you want any proof, just look no further than Dublin last weekend.
The Irish went into the opening round of the Six Nations as odds-on favourites to win it – and not just because the tournament is in its first year under the Guinness banner – and then to lead the European challenge at the World Cup.
They have perfected the art of preparation of their players with control of the elite through their provinces, have an inspirational coach at the helm and have been gathering the kind of momentum that Clive Woodward and Co created in the build-up to England’s global title back in 2003.
Ireland under Joe Schmidt also appear to be approaching the All Blacks’ skill in preparing a solid succession plan with young talent of the calibre of Jason Stockdale, James Ryan, Joe Carbery and Jordan Larmour coming into a winning team to add to a mix which includes world-class warhorses like Rory Best, Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray.
A home game against England, who had an awkward autumn, was looked upon as a perfect way to launch their tilt at a Grand Slam and the bandwagon was at top speed in the build-up to kick-off in Dublin. It could not have been easy for England to face up to that.
But it was England who started with their pedal to the metal, Manu Tuilagi’s first involvement setting the platform for Jonny May’s try just 90 seconds into a Championship season.
England were up and running.
That opening try did not win the game, especially as Ireland were able to chip away on the scoreboard quickly afterwards and then take the lead before half-time, but it did lift everyone in a white shirt.
The physicality of the England forwards did not wane for the next 78 minutes, the quality and control around the pitch was exemplary and the momentum resolutely refused to swing fully in Ireland’s direction at any stage of proceedings.
Manu, May and their mates took full advantage of getting the wind in their sails early on and they eventually left Ireland in their wake top such an extent that the 32-20 final score probably did not do the visitors full justice.
It is a lesson both sides will have taken to heart with four more big games to come as they continue the countdown to a World Cup campaign.