Ireland head coach Andy Farrell revealed that high performance coach Gary Keegan has been working with the squad on their mental preparation over the course of the Autumn Nations Cup.
Performance anxiety was highlighted as one of the factors behind Ireland's poor showing at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, with the IRFU's David Nucifora citing it as one of the issues flagged in the union's review of the tournament.
Farrell disclosed today that Keegan had been drafted in to work on the team's mental preparation and he's been helping the team for the duration of the Autumn Nations Cup.
An experienced performance coach, Keegan is most feted for his work as High Performance Director of the IABA from 2003 to 2008, where he was credited with driving the new wave of success for Ireland in amateur boxing.
He has subsequently worked with the Dublin footballers, the Cork hurlers under Kieran Kingston in 2017 and with Leinster rugby since 2016.
We need your consent to load this SoundCloud contentWe use SoundCloud to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Farrell confirmed that former manager Mick Kearney had also been drafted to help with the mental aspect of the game.
"Gary Keegan has been with us for some weeks and he's been doing a tremendous job," Farrell told reporters at today's press conference two days out from the Scotland game.
"Mick Kearney is there as a mentor for many of the players - obviously he was there in previous years as a manager. A lot of our players, it isn't just dealing with the stress of match-week, it's obviously dealing with life outside of rugby as well, and that can build up in a different manner. Mick helps massively with that.
"With Gary and Mick, we're well on our way to starting with something that's going to help in the future.
"From a mental performance and preparation aspect, it is something that we are touching on constantly. Stress comes from people wanting to put their best foot forward when they're given an opportunity. How you deal with that, that's our job. That's international football, isn't it? That's why it's so different.
Hooker Rob Herring said the squad were gelling well with Keegan and picking up tidbits.
"It's something you probably hear a lot – trying to find an edge mentally and just to change things up. Individually, we’re connecting with him and he’s just looking at what your routine is and where you can make more improvements.
"It’s nothing major, just small things he’s noticing or where we can improve. Ultimately, everything you do individually adds up towards a better team performance."
Ireland face into a third/fourth place playoff game against Scotland in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, after a pair of stuttering performances against England and Georgia.
The tournament had begun well with Farrell's side demolishing a Welsh side, currently at a low ebb, on the opening weekend.
However, it was followed by another resounding defeat at Twickenham, Ireland's third such loss at the venue in less than 18 months, and then a deeply underwhelming 23-10 win over relative minnows Georgia last weekend.
Farrell described the Nations Cup as primarily about building towards the 2021 Six Nations but acknowledged that last weekend's second half performance was poor.
Nonetheless, the head coach insisted that chances were being created and there was a big performance in the group.
"Certainly we didn't get the best out of the players in the second half last week. But we've seen snippets, haven't we? What we have done is create a lot of chances, converting those chances is a work-on for us, and it's something we've been working hard on.
"There's no doubt in our minds whatsoever that there's a big performance in the team. Scotland will have something to say about that, they'll be bullish. But we're in a determined mood, ready to put a performance out there at the weekend.
"They're a side that has been together for a while. They've a very experienced coach in Gregor (Townsend), he does a fine job, I love the way he coaches. They were disappointed in the 19-12 loss back in February so I'm sure they'll be looking forward to this game."
Ireland's team has a more A-list feel on Saturday, with six front-rank players returning to the line-up, most crucially captain Johnny Sexton at out-half.
"Johnny coming back from a hamstring injury is a big boost. He's our captain and he's been missing for a few weeks although he's been working unbelievably hard behind the scenes to make his presence felt."He's ahead of schedule and he's chomping at the bit and ready to go.
"He brings a feeling to the group that makes everyone feel right and ready to go for a big Test match."
Follow Ireland v Scotland this Saturday via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app, watch live on RTÉ 2 from 1.30pm, or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport