For the players, this Six Nations tournament suddenly got very real
From The Blindside:In the Ireland camp, today will be different to yesterday. The day after the team for the opening Six Nations game is announced, you always feel the atmosphere changing a little bit. The excitement level goes up a notch and the nerves go up with it.
The nature of the Six Nations places such a huge emphasis on the opening weekend and the pressure on players and coaches over the next three days won’t get any lighter. Everybody knows that this whole tournament could be as good as over and done with by mid-afternoon on Saturday.
Sentiment goes out the window now. You may have been part of the squad for a long time and you may have lost your place.
But there’s a job to do and people have to row in behind the rest of the squad now. The lads outside the match-day 23 will stay in camp for the next couple of days until the team flies out to Cardiff and hard as it will be for them, they can’t mope about.
Team do badly
That’s tough, let me tell you. I did it plenty of times and there’s no tougher week for it than this week. Because you know in your heart and soul that the team picked for the first game is going to have to either do pretty badly or suffer some injuries for you to see action for the next six weeks. And no matter how down you feel at not getting picked, you still want Ireland to win.
So you gradually become resigned to your fate – but not before you go out and hold some tackle pads just to make you feel that little bit worse. I spent the whole of the Grand Slam year on tackle pad duty.
Myself, Shane Horgan, Girvan Dempsey, Keith Earls, Shane Jennings – we were the main men in that campaign when it came to holding the tackle pads. Hey, I’m a medal-winner thanks to my efforts!
The most important thing is that you don’t bitch, you don’t moan, you don’t make people feel uncomfortable around you. You take it on the chin and you get over yourself. The guys who made it have a game to prepare for and they don’t need you being any sort of negative presence. The dynamics of the week have changed, everybody knows that.
But the ultimate aim of the week has stayed the same. The coaches are under pressure throughout. They know it’s going to be very hard to come back from a defeat against Wales if that’s what Saturday brings. Plenty of people all over the country are talking about the possibility that this could be their last Six Nations if it doesn’t go well. So a game that is already highly pressurised has that hanging over it as well.
When you think about it, it’s actually pretty harsh on international coaches that they get judged on a competition like the Six Nations.
With the way the rugby calendar is, preparation for it is always that little bit rushed, unlike with Heineken Cups and even World Cups where there’s a bit of a lead-in and you can get set properly in good time.