An angry team written off is dangerous but I still expect Ireland to beat France
Even in the professional era, the simplest motivation in sport is when no one believes in you
In the France squad this week, there’ll be a lot of anger and a lot of frustration. Even though they have three wins and six points on the board, they’ve been terrible in this Six Nations. They’ll be cranky with each other, annoyed with their coach, full of contempt for the press. On the face of it, they have all the ingredients for an ambush.
You would think that in modern professional sport the old motivating factor of everybody writing you off wouldn’t carry much weight. Don’t believe a bit of it. Teams and players still use it at every level of every major sport.
Nothing fires you up like the thought that nobody thinks you have it in you. It makes you bitter, it gives you a chip on the shoulder. If you use it the right way, you can turn things around.
the motivating power of everybody saying you’re crap. It’s only Wednesday but how many times since the weekend have you heard somebody say this is a dire French team?
And if that’s what we’re saying in Ireland, you can only imagine what the atmosphere is like in France. Everywhere they turn, people are giving out about them. I don’t care how professional you are or how detached you try to be – you carry that with you out onto the pitch.
This is a bit different to what we would have had with Munster at the start. Back then, we would find something to get bitter about, dig out something the opposition had said in the press and use it as motivation. We would make out that they thought we were inferior to them and we’d go out to prove them wrong.
The difference there is we actually probably were that little bit inferior at the time. Definitely starting off, when we were travelling to the south of France, we were playing teams that had better players, who were better paid, who had no experience of losing to Irish teams. In that situation, we were probably trying to convince ourselves we weren’t inferior as much as anything and gradually it came to be the case that we weren’t.
What France are going through this week isn’t like that. The team we’ve seen in the Six Nations so far is, as everyone has been saying, terrible. But these aren’t terrible players. They might not be just at the level of some of the best ones of the past but they’re not useless. There is plenty of talent in that squad – they’re just underperforming.
That’s what makes them potentially dangerous this weekend. Write off bad players and every once in a while they’ll play above themselves and catch you out. Write off decent players and there’s a far bigger chance they’ll rouse themselves into a performance.
It happens in all sports but it can work especially well in rugby. You can have all the clever gameplans and set moves in the world but when you break it down, rugby is fundamentally a game of aggression. Especially in the early stages of a game when both sides are trying to dominate.
If you’ve spent the week annoyed at yourself, if you’ve stewed away in all the bad press and public anger, then those early clashes are a great way to change the mood. You go out on to the pitch and even if you haven’t managed to solve all the technical problems during the week, at least you can make it chaotic for the other side. At least you can put in a heavy tackle that gets the crowd going and makes your teammates realise you mean business.