Ok so I am going to level with you.
I am still very upset. But not upset at the Irish team, management organisation. I am upset with the lazy narratives coming out of a really tough 6 Nations tournament. A tournament that has sent shockwaves through Irish rugby. A tournament that nothing went right and most worryingly, a tournament that has made every internet troll drool at the thought of being able to say ‘I told you so’.
You will read elsewhere about in depth analysis of the games, strike plays; dominant tackles and other trendy (but not real) buzz words. But I am coming from this from a psychological point of view. But before we get into this, we need to have a few points up front that are unquestionable. Once we get them in the open we can move on.
- No team goes out to play badly
- No player underperforms on purpose
- The world player of the year doesn’t turn bad quicker than milk
- A coach with a record of 21 wins with 3 defeats is not burnt out / lost / lacking ability to fix issues
- None of us could coach a J1 team let along a national side
- We do NOT know better than the current setup
Ok now that we have those points out in the open let’s look in generalities (because as I said there is more in depth analysis elsewhere). Ireland came in with momentum, a winning November with markers sent to the top teams of the world. All positive. Ireland arrived in November off a grand slam that was part skill, part plays, part inventiveness and part trust in each other to get the phases up with a red clock and a right boot from Sexton.
All positive and all psychologically sound.
What you will see as my theory is that it is not the rugby in and of itself that has caused the issue. It appears from my couch (and I am The Couch Pundit after all) that something is broken in the mind of the players. This became evident to me watching the last game. It had zero to do with the roof or the ref or any other lazy narratives that the fans and hack media have been latching on to. If you have 2 screens and put the Scotland v England game on one and the Ireland v Wales on the other you will see what one team is playing for each other, one team has faith in each other, 1 team is willing to die (metaphorically of course) on that pitch to leave a performance in the jersey they are lucky to wear. I am talking about Scotland here. A team who had lost all momentum they had built up after bad performances. They are a team with a long term goal of 2023 but they wanted to leave it all out there against England. Yes the variable of the old enemy will stir the loins more than usual but you get my point. I am trying not to use the word pride because that would be a massive disservice to any of our players. But Scotland where willing to die for each other out there.
Let’s move to Cardiff. Ireland arrived at low ebb, struggling for confidence and it showed. Over the ref mic there where very few Irish voices. In general throughout the tournament, aside from Stander against France, the only thing we heard over the ref mic was O’Mahony slagging people. The Irish team looked deflated. They looked like we would look coming out of an argument with a team mate just before kick-off. I have been in that position where I don’t want to play with a teammate after an argument; I would rather punch them than pass the ball to them. And this is what it looked like for Ireland throughout the tournament. I am not saying for a moment that the players want to fight each other, I am just putting forward the theory that something may have happened between them that has gone passed banter, gone passed ribbing and into the ‘I don’t like you for saying that territory’. When you look at how the tournament has gone, this theory makes sense. The post-world cup / retirees biographies will be interesting reading that is for sure.
As for the play and other buzz words. Ireland hasn’t been figured out. Most of the time, the opposition knows what Ireland are going to do, Ireland have just been good enough to do it better than expected. The entire operation is built on accuracy. Putting the ball where it is supposed to be for the game plan to unfold. Whether it is 40+phases 13 months ago, or an extra trick to the wrap around against France this year that is all built on accuracy and trust! Those are the 2 things that have been missing this 6 Nations. The players are still great, yes injuries etc. are in affect but that is just sport. The leaders are on the pitch still, but it appears that the backing they once enjoyed from the squad may not be as it once was.
So how is this fixed?
Well it is simple. Much like Rob Kearney and his talk in 2009 about the Munster lads having more of a connection to the red than the green, maybe a round table is needed. Dealing with any issues off the pitch will allow freedom and trust on the pitch to come back.
To finish off I would like to make 2 points.
Firstly, the above is nowhere near a knock on any of the players who put the green jersey on for me to scream for. I do not wish it to come across that way. I support my team, our team. I support our players. I applaud the bravery, the skill, the stubbornness and the determination they each show. I am just trying to put forward another possibility for this slump.
The second point is that the internet is a horrible place. A lot of you reading this shouldn’t be allowed outside near people let alone on the internet. Some of the post-match reactions have been beyond pathetic, and some of you really need to look at yourselves!
So as we put the green jersey in the wash for a few months of reflection. How about anytime we see an Irish squad member we give them the thumbs up, let them know we are still with them. Let them know that we are still standing shoulder to shoulder with them. Because if I was part of that squad looking at the reactions of the media, I would feel like the loneliest player in the world.
Let’s stand up, we can’t just wear the green jersey in good days, we have to be there in the bad days too. Show our support and be constructive with your criticisms.
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