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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 19 January 2021
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Opinion: Club mentality and ref management made Ireland a different beast

Declan Kidney’s squad rediscovered what makes them hungry to win, but the game-plan was made to suit more than just the players.

Image: ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

PERHAPS RONAN O’GARA was sent out to loosen the first tantalising strand for the rugby media to toy with this week when he called on his team mates to adopt more of a club mentality on Ireland duty.

Or maybe he was just going off on a solo run. He does that sometimes too.

Either way,  his mission statement was heeded by the squad as they mercilessly tore into a fatigued Argentina side on Saturday.

It could be considered a moment akin to Rob Kearney’s infamous assertions in Enfield – that Munster players gave more for the cause in red than they did in green.

After five consecutive Test defeats, this Irish side badly needed to press the reset button and they did so by looking within asking, ‘what makes you want to win.?’

“We talked last night (Friday) about wanting to show what it means to play in a green jersey for all of our family and friends.” Heaslip said as the gathered hoard tried to make sense of a freakish result.

“All the work had been done regarding your  job detail and your role. Now was the time to let a bit of emotion creep in and let a bit of passion out. And I think that’s what you saw after all of the tries.”

“During the last few weeks we talked about doing ourselves proud.” Heaslip’s fellow back row, Peter O’Mahony, later added. “Then during the week we talked about doing our families proud and doing the country proud and I think we were able to do that today.”

Craig Gilroy was another who cited the part that ‘family and friends’ played in the success. Although in his first cap his necessities leaned more towards keeping a lid on his nervous emotion than trying to awaken an old feeling.

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Obviously, it takes more than just a hackneyed ‘let’s do it for the parish, lads‘ rallying cry to turn around a side who looked bereft of ideas after 50 minutes of combat with the Springboks. Funny then, that it was a South African who inspired Ireland to change tack.

‘Get out of the way’

The kick was almost entirely culled from the game-plan. Suddenly; crisp, decisive passing  and a lust for defensive gaps were the order of the day. It was not Richardt Strauss or Gert Smal forcing this change, but referee Jaco Peyper.

“We were a bit annoyed at ourselves,” Heaslip said of the Pumas early penalties almost directly off the restart, “we knew the referee would favour the attacking side and allow that kind of play. So we had to basically get out of the way at ruck time and trust our defence.”

As an honorary back row, Gordon D’Arcy is always similarly well-placed to judge how the ball is being recycled, and he came close to repeating his captain’s words:

“We knew the referee would back the attacking team. So we knew we could play with a little bit of ambition if we controlled our rucks.”

Even though Ireland have proven they can produce the style of rugby we had been dreaming of seeing transferred from the provinces to the Test arena, the words make us fear a backward step.

The varying degrees of interpretation means that every side must tweak their breakdown policies to appease officials. But what Ireland showed was much more than a tweak. When Peyper is assigned elsewhere, will Ireland retreat from the incredible attacking intensity shown on Saturday?

What happens when the man in the middle of our five Six Nations fixtures is more at ease with a competitive breakdown? Will we see an Irish side happy to kick – in any shape or form – away from our own territory, hoping to force an error in the opponent’s half?

Even O’Gara couldn’t abide by that. He’d stick to the winning formula.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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