The Irish rugby squad was brought through its paces in an unusually warm Sportsground in Galway this morning. The public session was the culmination of the squads week based in Galway, and they were given a warm west of Ireland welcome as they blew off the cobwebs with a round of stretches before going through a few full contact drills.
The squad also took the opportunity to mix with the fans and sign a few autographs. Among the most sought after signatures was that of out-half Johnny Sexton, who despite an injury sustained to his left hand earlier this week delighted the crowd by spending plenty of time giving his John Hancock.
After the session Robbie Henshaw spoke about how enjoyable he’s found the week back in the west, “It’s been tough, but it’s also been really enjoyable, We were out in Killary Harbour during the week and did an assault course, Paddleboarding and other stuff, so just little things like that to keep us tight as a squad and keep the environment really healthy.” He also spoke about how focused the group are right now. “Preparing for a World Cup, compared to even a Six Nations camp is completely different, the longevity of being in camp, the amount of groundwork you have to put in, you can really gloss over little things, you have to make sure you nail every little detail. So we work hard, we work smart. That’s the big focus for us over these few weeks.”
Henshaw is heading into his second World Cup after being part of Joe Schmidt’s squad in England & Wales four years ago, and I asked him if he saw himself as a senior player within the group this time around, “I’ve played quite a bit with this group, so when I’m asked to lead, I try to do it on the pitch and in training. Vocally I’m a little bit quieter than the other leaders, but I try to do it by my actions.”
Conor Murray also spoke about the groups’ hopes and ambitions for the months ahead. “We’re a pretty honest group and we learn from our mistakes, If you look over the last couple of seasons we’ve been pretty successful, we’ll realise what didn’t work in this years Six Nations, but I think we’ve ironed out those creases already. After each game that didn’t go to plan, we reviewed it and tried to sort it out. This group has a lot more positive performances to draw upon than the few bad ones in the Six Nations.”
The squad will travel to Limerick for camp next week and will have a public session at Thomond Park next Friday as the build-up to the four pre-season games continues. Although the focus today was on activities on the pitch the reality is the squad could be together until early November if the progress all the way to the final in Japan. When I asked Conor if he was daunted by the prospect of being in camp for such a long duration he dismissed it as a worry and said it was quite the opposite, “It’s great craic (within the group), it’s an unbelievable place to be, This group has been around together for a while now, you’ve great mates here, you’ve lads you get on really well with the slaggin’ is always good and yeah, I think we’ve got a good balance of it. On the down days, some of the lads like to play a bit of golf, others go for a swim or chill out, that freedom is there. I think the coaches and management are really good at that, giving us our own time. There is a natural friendship around the group.”
The IRFU also used today’s session as an opportunity to unveil their Canterbury World Cup kit. The home jersey is officially “Bosphorous green” with a subtle white trim and is complemented by classic white shorts, and what Canterbury have described as ‘a hyper-realistic 3D silicon IRFU logo’.