Ireland v Wales, England and Rugby Psychology

Week 4 of the 6 Nations in the books and a feeling of calm numbness washes over me.

This won’t be an in-depth blog about game plans, spacing and field position. There are people far more qualified for the jargon. This will be about psychology. The psychology of the match on Saturday was fantastic to watch for the neutral, not so much if you had a green jersey on.

Coming in, Ireland where on a high. A strong win against France while not getting out of 3rd gear left a lot in the tank, but replenished the reserves of confidence and belief. Wales on the other hand, collapsed like me after 12 Guinness (other stouts are available). They were up at halftime, well within themselves and looked to put Scotland to the sword. But it didn’t happen. The big players didn’t perform; Scotland consistently out fought and out worked them and deserved the victory. So both teams came in at opposite ends of the happiness scale.

Ireland started well, much like they finished against the French. Pressure led to an early penalty from Sexton and they looked to be off to the races. Then a knock to J10 and a cold Paddy Jackson came on, resulting in an error (he didn’t get a chance to warm up) and George North scored a try. The same George North who looked frightened of a tackle the week previous. He was back to his frightening JCB best. This lifted the Welsh. North is usually their talisman. If he is playing well, they will all play well and he put a marker down early. Especially when the game plan from Ireland was to kick the ball at him (not to him) at every available opportunity. The Welsh weathered an early storm from Ireland and came back with 5 points. Jackson kicked another penalty which came from more pressure while Sexton was still under HIA. At 28 minutes Sexton was back and the momentum shifted again towards the green side. But 10 minutes later he was binned for not rolling away. It was a tough call, while technically correct. I would suggest that If you had 3 17 stone men on top of you, you would struggle to get out from under them, but rules are rules.

Wales took advantage and scored unanswered points while Sexton was in the bin and Conor Murray suffered a stinger. He was kept on the field while being in obvious discomfort. His left arm was useless. He should have been taken off but it appeared that the coach didn’t trust Marmion to play without senior guidance.

The players saw this. The players felt this and they sank. Subconsciously everything that they had said in the media evaporated. The talk of squad depth disappeared. Marmion was well capable of playing, but instead they chose to keep Murray on the pitch. He was brave beyond measure. Hitting rucks with 1 arm, but he took 2 massive hits while being unable to defend himself. Player safety etc. etc.

Half time arrives and a reset was needed, the team knew it, the coaching staff knew it and every Ireland supporter knew it. Sexton had a few minutes left to serve in the bin so Murray was left on, with a stinger!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinger_(medicine)    (please read this before continuing!)

Again, the players saw this. It sent a message. Even with a stinger, Marmion was left on the side-lines. Mentally that plays with a team. They know how good the backup is, he has performed consistently well for Connacht but he was left on the side-lines until Murray made the call, maybe it was the medical staff, but it was left too late. Wales where bossing the game.

The reset occurred with the substitutes. Healy, O’Mahony and Henderson came on over the space of 15 minutes and changed the game. Ireland came back. And should have gone in front if not for a midfielder charging into a maul. Again, not his fault, he was just trying to help, but rules are rules.

This dented Ireland’s confidence. They looked to believe that if they exerted pressure wales would crack. Wales where cracking but Ireland came away with nothing. The psychological shift yo-yo’d in that second half. If Ireland score 1 try from a malfunctioning lineout in the welsh 5 metre zone and the Rory best maul results in a try the entire game changes. The Irish lineout was easier to read than the Da Vinci code, just with an even more annoying ending. Bad throws? Not enough options or a mixture of the two.

The plays didn’t come off and a slight miscue from J10 while trying to exit the Ireland redzone resulted in a Jamie Roberts try that hurts the scoreboard.

Going back a couple of paragraphs. If Ireland scores 2 tries then the narrative is completely different. Ireland win, while still not playing well and you all think it is winning ugly and a positive thing. The likes of the great Tony Ward would not be asking for the changes he is asking for, but sport being sport, sometimes it goes against you. If you look at most player ratings in various sporting media, players didn’t play badly. The stats would back this up. But stats don’t win games, people do.

We should have strangled that Welsh team, the players on both teams felt that at the opening whistle. Wales where able to psychologically manage the game much better, take advantage of the mental state of the opposition and grew in confidence because of it and deserved the win.

Wales played well, Ireland played at 50%. That is what happened.

As for the backlash, a lot of people are turning into football pundits with the rash decisions and turning on the coach. Firstly, every single rugby playing team on this planet from under 8s to golden oldies would sell their grandmother to have Joe as a coach. He is brilliant. Anyone talking about Joe out is a fan and not a supporter. The best thing about a fan is that the IRFU get their money. The worst part is the post-match conversation.

The second being that Jamie Heaslip should be dropped for O’Mahony. While I agree O’Mahony should start, it should not be at the expense of one of the team’s top performers. Look at the work load. It is only Stander who compares when it comes to tackles, yards etc. This is reactionary nonsense to sell papers. Do not fall for the hype.

With that out of the way, we welcome the old enemy to Dublin. I would dare say they have never been as tough as they are now. It will be an absolute dog fight on Saturday. McFadden has been drafted in to replace Tommy Bowe. Again people losing their mind over this. But he has big match experience, knows the calls etc. and has performed at the highest level. Gilroy has not. I would have brought Adam Byrne in, which goes against my previous 40 words, but he is worthy of a shot. He is big enough, bold enough and brave enough to battle England.

This will be a dogfight. I would start O’Mahony in place of O’Brien, Payne instead of Kearney and Scannell instead of Best. Massive calls to make, not made with any disrespect and very easy from the couch, but if Ireland want to be in with a shot of winning, last weekend’s mistakes cannot happen again.

I will make a bet with everyone reading this. Paddy Jackson scores the final kick for an Ireland win by 3.

As usual, @nkeegan and @kdubdd on instagram for discussion.