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Gordon D’Arcy: Ireland’s slight dip in performance levels is no bad thing ahead of facing England

Andy Farrell’s side came out on top against Wales but some players will know they fell short of the mark and will reflect on that

Oscar Wilde once observed: “Two men look out a window, one sees mud, the other sees the stars.” Perspective is so important in life as it is the way we view and interpret the world around us.

It can be used to shape our thoughts, emotions, and actions and when channelled correctly, particularity in a sporting context, is an especially powerful galvanising force, fostering new insights, encouraging creative solutions to challenges and ultimately, when properly harnessed, used to build strong foundations for future success.

In the respective post-match press conferences at the Aviva Stadium last weekend Ireland head coach Andy Farrell and his Welsh counterpart Warren Gatland were asked a similar question about whether the final score accurately reflected the ebb and flow of the match. Understandably, they took appreciably different views.

Each team is at a different stage in their cycle and how each and every match is reviewed and processed is pretty important. Ireland spent a lot of time touring NZ and Australia in the 2000s, with little or no success when you looked purely at the scorelines in each of the matches going back as far as the tour in 2002.


Ireland occasionally defied the form guide to a point where we might have made a few bookies nervous, one-off performances where we created an inflection point in the match without the wherewithal to turn it in our favour in terms of the outcome.

The Kiwis would be challenged to respond and, inevitably, they did. While frustrating to be on the losing side of close ‘what if’ matches, we earned a grudging respect. I can, without doubt, suggest that the in-depth review after these games until roughly 2012 were drastically different for the respective teams.

Ireland would have been looking at the ‘what ifs,’ had we done this, or had we not done that, then the match may have unfolded in a different fashion; it was a desire to shape the art of the possible, endorse with live examples and have faith that it would be a jumping off point that would lead to future wins.

In the New Zealand dressingroom, there would have been an air of disappointment surrounding their display, a frustration in allowing Ireland to dispute the result for longer than anticipated. The comparison is based on the truism that the favourites are there to be taken down. Everyone is afforded a shot at upsetting the odds.

Wales travelled with a clear plan to dispute, frustrate, and hopefully stymie the Irish attack, while engineering a few chances down the other end of the pitch. They were heroic in defence in the first half, measured and thoughtful in how they deployed their resources.

They stuck to the game plan, were diligent if a little undisciplined at times, the upshot was that they held Ireland to a 17-point scoring tally at the interval. Given the amount of possession the home side enjoyed, close to 73%, it should probably have been more.

In the second half Wales came to a fork in the road while Tadhg Beirne was in the sin bin; one was a path in which they would score a second try to potentially close the deficit to 17-14. Ireland encouraged them by conceding a raft of penalties, providing access to premium possession and territory.

This created an air of anticipation around the stadium that whoever scored next would win the battle for momentum. What turned the tide for me was that Wales were not able to match Ireland when it came to input from individuals at key moments.

The returning Beirne and replacement hooker Ronán Kelleher each won momentum-grabbing turnovers. The substantial resources of the Ireland bench arrived largely en masse and they had a pivotal effect on the end result.

The simplest way for any team to establish their anchor in a game is to focus on defence. It is as much about mentality as it is physicality. However, focusing purely on defence comes at a cost and this was evident in the Welsh attack.

The rare opportunities they got to attack were often undone by an individual error at inopportune moments. To be successful a team needs to be proficient on both sides of the ball. Defence can help generate attacking opportunities; it will be a focal point for Gatland as he seeks to grow his young team.

Ireland will probably spend more time looking at their build-up during the week rather than focusing too much on what happened in the match. They looked slightly off the pace and, yes, they could have scored eight tries with a pass to hand here or an offload there.

I don’t believe there is a sudden skill deficit in the squad, we know they are more than capable of playing through multiphase sequences with tempo and accuracy. A part of being a professional is managing the ups and the downs. In my experience the swings were considerably larger than they are today.

Temperamentally it’s important to retain an even keel to remain immune from a yo-yo emotional toll. Things didn’t go to plan for the most part for Ireland. A good portion of that was down to a resolute Welsh performance and some perhaps down to Ireland not being as mentally attuned as they have been in other matches.

I rarely got to play in matches whereby we played under par and still won the game relatively comfortably, at least on the scoreboard. I would think that Andy Farrell, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony won’t have too much geeing-up of the players to do over the next week and a half.

Players will know that there were parts of performance that were off-kilter, where execution diverged from ambition. High-functioning teams know and understand individual responsibility. A little self-reflection when performance drops slightly, with no real net consequence, is not the worst outcome in advance of a trip to Twickenham.