|Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 11 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
|Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sounds, the BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary & highlights on BBC Sport website & app
After starting their Six Nations campaign with a bonus-point win over Wales, 2009 Grand Slam winner Tommy Bowe explains why he’s liking what he’s hearing from Andy Farrell as Ireland gear up for Saturday’s crunch meeting with France.
If Ireland had lost Saturday’s Six Nations opener to Wales, Andy Farrell would not have been short of excuses.
Without injured key players like Tadhg Furlong, Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy and going up against a Warren Gatland-led Wales team under the Principality Stadium roof, it could easily have gone wrong for Ireland in Cardiff.
Even the bus that was taking the Ireland players from the hotel to the stadium was a few minutes late.
As a player, the bus journey to the stadium was my favourite part of gameday. All those nerves you’d feel on the morning of a big match that stopped you from stomaching a nice breakfast disappeared once you hopped on the coach.
Wales was always a short but odd bus journey. The coach has to drive at a snail’s pace behind four horses trotting along, but it was fun to see supporters in green and red having the time of their lives.
But everything leading up to kick off is mapped out with military precision and the bus journey is calculated so that it arrives at the stadium at exactly the right time as to not disrupt preparation.
I remember Joe Schmidt – who was a stickler for the tiniest details – in 2017 blaming Ireland’s loss to Scotland on the bus being 15 minutes late.
But that’s what I’ve loved about Farrell recently. He’s not treating the uncontrollables as potential excuses, but as challenges for his squad. He wants things to go out of control so that his players are comfortable in the chaos.
Gibson-Park ruled out on the morning of a match? Farrell said it was “good” for Ireland when you’d normally hear a coach describe it as a blow.
The bus was late? Farrell wanted it to be even later to keep his players on their toes and really focus their minds.
Wales wanted the roof closed? Farrell wanted it too because he knows that to win a Grand Slam or World Cup, his players need to know how to perform against the most intimidating atmospheres.
Farrell isn’t looking for excuses, but he is trying to test the team as much as he can and as early as he can in World Cup year – and I’m a big fan of this approach.
And look, it’s clearly working. There was plenty of talk about Warren’s Warriors wrecking Farrell’s feelgood factor, but it was Ireland who came bursting out of the blocks on Saturday like I’ve never seen before.
They were 14-0 up after eight minutes and that early dominance showed every supporter why Ireland are the team at the top of the tree and why they should be considered serious contenders for the World Cup later this year.
Sure, Wales had opportunities to get in and improved in the second half, but there was never enough to really cause panic in the Irish ranks before they scored that bonus-point try.
There was talk of the Welsh back row but I thought Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris were exceptional, snuffing out everything, while in the back field Hugo Keenan was outstanding.
The way I see it is Ireland were able to win a Six Nations game away from home without moving out of third gear and that’s a telling reflection of where Farrell’s side are.
Now the focus switches to France, who came out on top after an epic clash with a much-improved Italy on Sunday.
It’s going to be an incredible battle between Ireland and France – the world’s top two sides – on Saturday and it may be the most-watched game of the tournament.
It’s still early in the championship but Ireland know that beating the French, who will travel to Dublin hunting a 15th win in a row, will mean it’s game on for the Grand Slam. We certainly felt that way after beating them in the first game in 2009.
And victory for Ireland would also hand them a psychological edge knowing that a World Cup quarter-final against Les Bleus could be on the cards later this year.
There’s just so much riding on the France game, but Farrell is certainly doing and saying all the right things to get his squad in the right mindset for a real heavyweight showdown.
Tommy Bowe was speaking to BBC Sport NI’s Matt Gault