Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Intensity wins Rugby matches

Peter O'Mahony displays his passion on his face, while Jamie Heaslip has that "game-face" stare
September 1st 2001; Ireland are heavy underdogs against the much fancied Dutch in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. With two games left in the group, both teams have a chance of qualifying. In the first minute, Roy Keane smashes into Marc Overmars in a dreadful tackle. The tone was set. Ireland were here to compete and scrap for every inch. Ireland went on to win 1-0 in a remarkable result that no one saw coming.

Fast forward over two years. Sunday November 24th 2013; Ireland off the back off a humiliating loss to Australia are staring down the barrel of a potential hammering against the world's number 1 team. Instead, Sean O'Brien pushes Aaron Smith for holding onto the ball too long surrounded by Irish players. The message is clear. Ireland are here to compete and scrap for every inch. Minutes later, Conor Murray scores a try that sets the tone for the emotional roller-coaster that is to follow.

It's no coincidence that these incidents started two huge performances against much fancied opposition. The intensity that Ireland showed in both games bridged the gulf in class between the teams. This intensity was visibly lacking two weeks ago when Ireland played Australia. The bookmakers couldn't separate the two sides, and Ireland were legitimately fancied to do well. Instead, they played with no aggression, no urgency in defense, and Australia wanted it far more.

This intensity and shear determination can be the difference between winning and losing, or the difference between a close match and a hammering, which goes both ways - that game last Sunday, or the hammering of England in Croke Park in 2007. It separates champion teams from the pretenders, and the men from the boys. Munster of the naughties found this intensity through so many near misses in the Heineken Cup, and Michael Cheika brought this determination to Leinster as they embarked on their European adventure.

It's nearly impossible to play with the intensity that Ireland played at last Sunday every time they play, but Schmidt needs to create an atmosphere, where Ireland can produce a high level of intensity to start performing at high level more constantly.

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