Ireland may have turned a corner just in time for the opening round of the World Cup in Japan following their win over Wales at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.
They looked like they were back to their surgical best with Johnny Sexton managing the team around the pitch. Sexton was raring to go, throwing himself into the contact area but how Ireland moved around the pitch was noticeably different.
It wasn't an overly exciting performance but that was not the aim of the exercise. They strangled Wales at important times throughout the game.
Despite sometimes looking flat and uninspiring, their phase play was tight and precise.
Conor Murray complimented Sexton's game very well with control at the base of the ruck punching the attack with carry after carry. There’s no way Schmidt is going to reveal his hand too early but there was an air of the pre-Six Nations Irish game about their performance.
When Ireland were winning the Six Nations and beating the All Blacks, I don’t think anyone was speaking of their loose, exciting style of play. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just effective.
Ireland’s passes were nearly always short and crisp, whether it was Murray hitting a pod of forwards to create quick ball or Sexton hitting them up the middle to get over the gain line and create quick ball. This is because the defence has less time to get off the line and make reads when the ball is in the air.
Of course the return of some key players will help the controlled game plan that we are used to seeing. Robbie Henshaw showed what we had been missing.
Early in the game Ireland's tight defensive line was almost exposed but Henshaw timed his defensive read perfectly to swallow up Jonathan Davies.
He always creates big moments in the biggest matches.
The weekend may not have been the most important game that Ireland will play in the next few weeks but Henshaw chasing back to stop Dan Biggar from scoring after intercepting Sexton's pass could have been a critical moment.
It was a pity that the Athlone man couldn’t keep Hadleigh Parkes out afterwards but this was his first game in a while and it was very impressive.
In attack he teamed up effortlessly with Bundee Aki sharing some offloads and both showing their footwork going into contact. Aki is a nightmare for the opposition out-half.
He has a pretty effective late change of direction but it’s his explosive power afterwards that makes him a handful in the midfield. There’ll be no doubt over Ireland's starting centre partnership going into the Scotland game in two weeks.
CJ Stander might not have started as well as he would have liked by being stripped in the tackle early on but you could see what he offers to Ireland in defence. His tackle count wasn’t his highest ever but they were all effective.
It’s also the amount of rucks he can disrupt that stands out. His fitness has always been one of his strengths which allows him to back up his tackle with a secondary effort in a ruck or tag on a high intensity effort such as a carry, ruck or tackle with another in quick succession.
In attack he created the fast ball for Sexton and subsequently Rob Kearney for the first try.
After a series of phases he got over the gain line and Sexton pulled the trigger in the 22 with a subtle line from Kearney.
Stander has done enough to secure a starting spot for Ireland's opener against Scotland but he’ll have to keep that kind of form up with Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock breathing down his neck.
An area of Ireland's game that has been noticeably adapted is their attack in the opposition 22. A few weeks back against Italy, Chris Farrell was getting the plaudits for his pull back pass for Joey Carbery’s try.
Last weekend there was more variety from a maul deep in Welsh territory when Jordan Larmour joined in on a bit of a wraparound play.
It’s something that I’ve noticed in the last few weeks and Joe Schmidt will undoubtedly be narrowing down that playbook to make it effective when it really counts in their opening two games of the pool. Expect to see something new but with similar endeavour in that area of the pitch going forward.
The other thing that was noticeable for me was the impact that Ireland's bench had. Personally, I thought that Ireland started with a stronger team than Wales on paper.
Wales brought on Dan Biggar, although earlier than expected, Gareth Davies, Liam Williams, Ken Owens and the like but it was Ireland's subs in Ruddock, Dave Kilcoyne, Sean Cronin and Jack Carty that finished stronger.
This is such an important area of any tournament whether it is seeing out a game with a smooth transition into the team or bringing an extra bit of intensity to create a spark if the team are under performing.
It bodes well for Ireland and their confidence was growing the longer the game went on. In the final 10 minutes Ireland tried things in attack, mainly because they were attacking with a penalty advantage but the likes of Carty are playing with freedom which will feed into the starting group too.
On the field they can’t do a whole lot more before the Scottish game.
They will spend the next 10 days or so travelling and recovering, getting used to the different routine and time zone, maintaining their conditioning and perfecting their starter plays, phase plays and general cohesion on the training pitch.
A lot of the work is done and we have escaped any major setbacks thus far. Ireland may not be favourites but they are the top ranked team going into a tournament, not a bad place to be.
RTÉ Sport will televise 14 live matches from Rugby World Cup 2019, including all of Ireland's matches, the knockout stages and a daily highlights show. RTÉ Radio will broadcast all Ireland's matches and you can follow the tournament via RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app.