Underdog status may bring out Ireland’s best side

The All Blacks are heavy favourites, but IRB Hall of Fame member Agustín Pichot says that could suit Ireland.

"Straight up, am I starting Joe?"
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IRELAND HAVE BEEN an inconsistent team for much of the past three years.

It’s a problem Joe Schmidt will be keen to address, particularly give that a solid showing against Samoa two weekends ago was followed up by a very poor display against Australia. Next up is the biggest test of this November series and it would be no surprise to see Ireland play well against the All Blacks.

One aspect of that is the need for Ireland’s players to redeem themselves after the Wallabies defeat. Not to the media, not to their coach, not to the supporters, but rather to their own sense of pride. Brian O’Driscoll has already spoken about Ireland playing with an “anger” this weekend, and that would certainly be something to incite life into the Aviva Stadium crowd.

Another element that bodes well for a strong Irish performance is the fact that they come into this game with little expectation of a win riding on their backs. It is the final game of the international series, and they have nothing to lose. That underdog status has suited Ireland in the past, and it may prove to be a similar performance aid again on Sunday.

One man who knows all about going into games against prestigious opponents is former Argentina scrum-half Agustín Pichot, who was in Dublin this week as a guest of the IRB World Rugby Conference.  The Pumas legend told that posing one’s team as the underdogs can be an excellent mental technique.

“I think when you play, you have to take into consideration what your good things and your bad things are. Being the underdog is a good psychological game to play during the week before. It’s a good motivation to go to the dressing room and say ‘Nobody likes us’ or whatever.

imagePichot helped Argentina to third at RWC2007 with the underdog mentality. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

“You just do whatever you can control the best you can. And then bring the extra factor to just play it as if it’s your last.”

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That’s certainly what many Ireland supporters will be hoping for; a demonstration of passion from the players, an all-out physical and confrontational effort. The manner in which Australia dominated the collisions cannot be repeated or Ireland will be blown away by the All Blacks.

Many of these Irish players will be frustrated to find themselves back in this situation as huge underdogs against the All Blacks. Heineken Cup success and former international glories for the likes of O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell would have allowed them to dream of competing at the forefront of international rugby.

That hasn’t been the case for Ireland in the last three years, and Pichot’s experiences with Argentina remind us that a winning mentality is a key element of moving into the realm of the leading international teams.

“The underdog thing, it looks well in the press leading up, it looks well in the changing room at some stages. But if you construct that all the time, you’re not good enough and your mentality’s not in the right frame of mind to be winners.”

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Murray Kinsella

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