herald

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Real enemy NOT the All Blacks

BIGGEST OBSTACLE FOR IRELAND IS OUR OWN LACK OF BELIEF

I SPENT a lot of the last week in the company of rugby giants. Pienaar, Lynagh, Fitzpatrick, Guscott, Pichot, Greenwood and Gregan; names that conjure up images of excellence, victory and history.

Apart from having a lot of laughs and a fair amount of banter, and apart from the fact that I'm long since retired, I couldn't help but soak up their attitude that made them so impressive on the field.

And with the week that was in it, I took the opportunity to delve into their memories of how they managed to beat the All Blacks. In the case of Fitzy I just made him relive and squirm through every defeat he suffered.

I was left with one common theme, each of the players and indeed their countries, had an inherent confidence that bordered on arrogance.

This is an age old argument I have with Jeremy Guscott. He finds it unconscionable that with the experience that is present in the Ireland team that Ireland would not expect to win, pretty much all the time.

 

TOO HIGH

This particularly manifests itself when Ireland are favourites for a game, or when the expectation is too high. How often have we seen Ireland under-perform in this situation?

It happened in my day, it happened long before then, as I have memories of shouting at the tv as a child, excoriating the presenter who had dared to suggest that Ireland would win the game. It wasn't so much a jinx, it was that we clearly hated the favourites tag.

I paid lip service to this attitude at the start of my playing career but eventually attempted to break free from the confines, with varied success.

By the end of my time I had realised one key component in having confidence as a team; we were better than some teams, but unless we reminded them of that physically from the first second we were liable to forget it.

It was as if we couldn't fully believe that we were better, as if we were, as the Munster players used to put it, 'AHS - Above His Station'.

Even in our greatest of days when Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2009 it was excruciating to watch. Ireland made it, but barely and yet they were streets ahead of any of their opposition. It was as if we didn't want to say we were better than anybody else and that became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I don't even know if any of this makes sense but I have been at a loss since Saturday to explain what happened. The performance lacked all intensity.

Every time we knocked on, had a poor kick chase, or walked up in defence you could see the energy drain from the side and bolster the confidence of the Australians.

Australia have a diametrically opposed mindset to ours. They believe they are world-beaters all the time.

They expect to win, they plan to win, they do not discuss the possibility of not being in control in the last moments of the game.

Against the odds, they have two Webb Ellis Cups in their locker.

 

RELISH

We have players who relish the mantel of favourites but we need the full team to do so. We have learnt this lesson in the past but we forget it all too often.

We can be better that the rest but we have to believe it and prove it every week. That for me was the aura that Joe Schmidt inculcated in Leinster. It is now his task to do the same with Ireland, and it may be beyond his ken.

Sunday will see a vastly improved performance. One of my friends suggested we were so bad last week that he was going to put a €100 on us to beat the All Blacks.

I don't think so but I know for sure that we are not favourites and we are comfortable with that. And that is what upsets me the most.

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