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Simon Hick's View from the Frontline: are you thinking what I'm thinking?

The Irish team have reached the quarter-finals thanks, in no small part, to collective intelligence, writes Simon Hick in New Zealand.

Squad training at the ASB Indoor Sports Centre, Wellington.
Squad training at the ASB Indoor Sports Centre, Wellington.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE IN team sports is a rare but beautiful thing.

It’s usually only seen at the elite level, from a group who have been together a long time.

It happens only in brief spurts, but it normally results in entertainment, and a score – the two best things in sport.

The Irish team managed it on a few occasions in Dunedin, most notably when Stephen Ferris put Keith Earls over for the first try of the night.

There had been a few decent phases to take them into the Italian 22, but the ball slowed down and nothing was on. That’s when the team brain kicked into gear.

The best player to take a short pass off the ruck at pace, and produce clean fast ball from the next ruck was Cian Healy. He moved into position, barrelled into contact, and the next phase was lightning quick because all the players in the backline knew what was required before they even got the ball.

The halfbacks spun it wide without weighing up their options, that was their job. Ferris received it wide because he sucks in two defenders every time he runs. He delayed nicely, before popping the pass to Earls who swivelled and dotted down in one movement. Le jeux sont fait.

‘No doubt the grunt work had to be done first…’

How it eventually comes about must be a partial mystery to the coaches who watched the players in their workboots sweat and toil to a shaky 9-6 lead at half-time, when suddenly the dancing shoes come on and they pirhouette their way to a huge win. Its like the hitman slowly bludgeoning his taget to death with a spade, before his partner comes in with a silencer to finish the job.

No doubt the grunt work had to be done first to subdue the Italians, and Stephen Ferris said afterwards that these creative moments only come through hard work and enthusiasm, but there is no practice drill and no amount of blackboard diagrams or gym work that could help build that score. It was a collective genius, with all 15 players involved.

In underage rugby, backs and forwards train seperately, sent to opposite sides of the field to do their lineout drills and backline moves. The pack lumber off to roll in the mud while the backs plot and scheme and write things down on paper. Then they all come together at the end to hopefully form a seamless unit.

Indeed, the Irish forwards and backs have been analysed as two seperate units so far in this tournament. The pack were seen as the heroes against Australia, the backs the deciding factor against Russia. Here, on Sunday night, they were as one, Sean O’Brien as likely to pop up on the wing as Darcy was likely to help out in the ruck.

The blend was just right, and there was an argument for each of the starting 15 to be considered for the man-of-the-match award.

We marvel at ants working the ant hill, flocks of geese flying south and swarms of fish moving in unison through the sea, but right now the Irish rugby team are teaching nature a lesson in teamwork.

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About the author:

Simon Hick.

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