Does the Irish Rugby team need a shrink?

Posted: March 2, 2009 in Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, Ireland Rugby Team, Rugby, Six Nations Championship, Sports

I nearly tore my hair out watching Ireland play England in rugby yesterday. Ireland were victorious, 14-13, in a performance that the phrase “winning ugly” could have been invented for. Beating the “old enemy” is normally a cause for wild celebration, but on this occasion my major reaction at the final whistle was a big-ass sigh of relief.

This is not how it should have been. The current Irish squad is almost definitely THE best Irish rugby side ever. We have a wealth of talent in all areas of the team – a pack capable of dominating the impact areas and lineouts, an out-half (Ronan O’Gara) who is capable of pinning opponents back again and again with raking kicks to the corner and punishing their indiscipline by racking up penalty points, and talented runners throughout the backs including, of course, a world-class centre and leader in Brian O’Driscoll. They were on a high after defeating France (our bogey team for as long as I’ve been watching the Five/Six Nations) and are on course for only our second ever Grand Slam. The current English team is relatively weak and played poorly yesterday – they gave away numerous penalties and had two players sent to the sin bin for ten minutes. And yet we were only clinging on at the end. Our performance was tepid and one-dimensional and O’Gara missed four kicks, which would have put the result beyond doubt much earlier.

The reason? In my opinion, there’s a problem that has afflicted Irish sports stars for decades – we aren’t comfortable with being considered favourites, being far more comfortable with the tag of underdogs, happier with “doing our best and seeing how it goes” than aiming for victory. Now the Irish rugby team have made big strides in their approach to games – in previous years they relied on disrupting opponents’ gameplans in the hope of snatching a win here and there. Now there is a genuine pattern to our play and an aim to win on our own merits. But the team still doesn’t seem to accept that they are better than other teams and that they should be able to brush opponents aside with contempt. They have won three Triple Crowns in recent years but haven’t won the championship or Grand Slam. On the BBC after the game even Keith Wood, the former Irish captain (who himself railed against the attitude of accepting “moral victories”), was predicting that Declan Kidney, the Irish manager, would downplay our chances against Scotland to such an extent that, by the time the game starts, Scotland would be favourites! And Scotland are currently worse than England!

Seriously, if the Irish rugby team doesn’t have a sports psychologist (and I can’t find one on their website), they need to get one immediately to salvage our best chance at a Grand Slam and Six Nations Championship in years, if not ever. They need to get their heads around the fact that they are a great team who are not just capable of defeating anybody else, but SHOULD beat almost any other team comfortably. They should go to Scotland accepting the favourites tags and ready to play up to it, not become paralysed by nerves from being associated with the title and the enormity of what they could well achieve. After all, the most successful Irish sports stars last year, namely Padraig Harrington and the Olympic Boxing Team, used sports psychologists. So come on lads, get on that couch, close your eyes and start to visualise victory.


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