Since following rugby I’ve given up on soccer. I still think soccer players, the elite ones at least are incredibly talented players who can create magic with the round ball. The thing I can’t stand is the cod-acting when they’re “fouled”. The rolling round on the ground, the clutching of whatever limb has been “offended”, the whimpering and the moaning. They’re stretchered gingerly off the pitch, given a rub of the magic sponge and sent straight back out again, having never been touched in the first place.
I was smiling to myself about this when I watched the opening exchanges of South Africa and Samoa at the weekend. They were ripping into each other like men possessed. The players have been through years of fitness and conditioning work to peak for these games. They’re designed for maximum impact, speed and agility. It’s an amazing balancing act by the coaches to blend the strength, agility and speed into one package (and to keep it from breaking/getting injured) and to have them tear into the opposition with no regard for their own well being. It’s also breathtaking to watch, a controlled high speed car crash.
Of course different teams use different tactics to achieve this aggressive physicality and mind set. In 2003 the Springboks famously headed off for a few weeks hard-graft in an army training camp, where they got pushed to the limit (often naked and allegedly at gun point sometimes) or until they broke. The result of that sort of conditioning can be seen every time Schalk Burger gets his hands on the ball or an opponents limb. Frightening stuff.
Likewise, the Haka conjures up the same sort of feelings when the All Blacks take the pitch. A war cry before play, they’re pumped and ready to go into battle from the first whistle. The Pacific Islanders have their own rituals and dances to get the blood flowing and the aggression turned up to eleven. It instills a sense of what is to come and prepares the players for the combat ahead.
But when Ireland play I think, at the moment, the pride, the aggression, the want to win above all else is missing. The players are equally tuned and conditioned as the other top tiered countries. They’ve had as long in camp together, if not longer than other teams and they certainly don’t lack in talent. So maybe lethargy is to blame before the game even starts? Maybe they need an extra boost? Maybe the mighty Paul shouting about the Fear of God is not doing the business anymore?
I think we have to re-consider our pre-game ritual. After a rousing rendition of whatever anthem they’re playing that day, maybe an Irish Haka is needed, an aggressive jig or reel in the middle of the park to get the blood pumping! Something, anything to break them out of this slump they’re experiencing.