'Ireland did not win last week’s game, Scotland lost it and Wales will not make the same mistakes'

'Ireland did not win last week’s game, Scotland lost it and Wales will not make the same mistakes'
Bundee Aki of Ireland in action against Hallam Amos of Wales last year. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IN order to be the best, you must beat the best.

However, you must have some kind of ruthless streak flowing through your veins and I’m not talking about bloodshed or inflicting injuries.

What I’m referring to is the relentless desire to win and never being happy with your performance.

You will never hear the top players give an interview after a winning accomplishment where they say they were perfect. They will always look at areas where they can improve in order to be more dominant.

Tiger Woods, Ronaldo, Federer, Ruby Walsh, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Lewis Hamilton, Usain Bolt, Jonny Wilkinson, all of the New Zealand rugby team and so on. All these organisations and individuals stand out from the rest because their lust for improvement is neverending and they make the required sacrifices that are needed to reach the Everest of their chosen obsessions.

You might think that these living legends are born with some kind of superpowers that gives them an edge, but you’d be completely wrong.

When their opponents are sleeping, they are training. When their opponents are complaining about the heat or the cold, they are just getting on with it. When their opponents are looking for others to blame, they are looking straight at the person in the mirror and taking full responsibility for their errors.

And when their opponents are saying they can’t give anymore, they are going beyond the boundaries that the human body permits and reaching levels of mental anguish never experienced before.

After last week’s lucky escape by Ireland, we were lambasted with the usual bull in the post-match interviews and there are two things that really infuriates me when I watch these.

First of all, we are never afforded the truth about how the players are feeling. They are now given media training from the book titled ‘let’s just be positive and pretend the world is all beautiful’.

Also, why can’t the interviewers ask the hard questions?

Is it because they are afraid or are they instructed not to for fear of the repercussions. Either way, it’s painful.

The last time I saw an honourable post-match interview was when Sinead Kissane famously asked former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan if he would be considering his position after a disastrous 2007 Rugby World Cup. The look on Eddie’s face was of shock and bewilderment.

It was a brave question to ask. And for the record, I think Eddie was one of Ireland’s best ever coaches.

Yes, it was great that Ireland won last weekend, but it just seemed that everyone in the camp was delighted with how the win manifested.

Even during Joe Schmidt’s tenure, it seemed that the Irish players were happy to just win no matter how small the margin was and how poor their overall display was. It was sad to see Schmidt depart his role in such contentious circumstances, but Ireland were never going to make it beyond the quarters with such a cautious and uninspired game-plan.

Yet again Andy Farrell has opted for Conor Murray over John Cooney to start, which is such an injustice to the ‘work hard and you’ll get rewarded’ slogan that we preach to our youth.

Murray did very little wrong against Scotland, but he also did nothing spectacular. I was expecting the Limerick man to show some of the traits that made him such a brilliant player.

During the week Farrell put Murray and Cooney in front of a gaggle of journalists to show how great their relationship was. This was yet another staged and scripted occasion by the team’s PR gurus. More bull.

If Cooney is not very upset that he is not wearing the number nine jersey, then may I suggest he hang up his boots now and take up accountancy as a profession! What is the point of wanting to play international rugby and settling for a berth on the bench?

Conor Murray and John Cooney at Ireland training. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Conor Murray and John Cooney at Ireland training. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

At this level of sport, you have no option but to be selfish. If you accept mediocrity you will be eaten alive and your window of opportunity will just disappear overnight.

Robbie Henshaw, who will partner Bundee Aki in the centre of the field in place of the injured Garry Ringrose, will need to show a whole new side to his game if this axis is going to return the required results.

Aki and Henshaw are too similar in how they play and their blunt-force approach to winning the gain line will easily be shut down by their opponents’ rush defence. I have no issues with either winning the collisions, but it is imperative that they look to keep the ball alive and look for continuity.

If Wayne Pivac, the new Welsh coach, opts for the same back-row combination that demolished the hapless Italians (42-0) in their opening game, it will be very hard for the Irish to build any kind of worthwhile phase plays.

We really need to see Ireland move away from the ridged and structural game plan that Schmidt imposed during his time at the steering wheel and if Farrell is true to his word, we should see signs of his players adopting a much riskier approach.

I also need to stress that if we kick away the amount of ball as we did during last week’s game, not only will we lose, we will be hammered.

This is a game that Ireland must approach with a view to winning it in style and not look to just crawl over the line.

Ireland did not win last week’s game, Scotland lost it and Wales will not make the same mistakes. Under Warren Gatland’s guidance, Wales nurtured a winning mentality and it looks like Pivac is continuing to feed it.

Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I just can see Ireland winning this one.

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