Forget Paris – Time for Ireland to Refocus Ahead of Italy Game

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland celebrates with teammates after kicking the match winning drop goal during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France in Paris, France. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile


So is it time to forget THAT drop goal? Well yes and no…

For us fans, well we can bask for a little while longer in the reflected glow of a moment that has already been accorded classic status: The 41 phases, the perfect precision, the total focus, the absolute commitment to the process with zero distraction from the implications of every action.

It was sweet but not fattening and just the third win in Paris since 1972 is never going to be forgotten in a hurry. Especially given the circumstances of a game we ought to have sewn up earlier only for the men in green to complete the job in epic style. It was quite possibly the most beautiful ‘win ugly’ performance in the history of rugby.

For the Ireland squad preparing to run out to play Italy at the Aviva stadium, however, the victory in Paris should serve as inspiration and, equally, it must be shelved. This is a new game, and the challenge for Ireland is to avoid a Stade de France hangover.

The first 20 minutes of the game against Italy will be crucial: Ireland are overwhelming favourites while Italy, seeking redemption from their mauling against England, are highly motivated underdogs unburdened by expectation.

For Ireland, the challenge will be to get themselves ‘up’ enough at the start of the game so that they can provide the platform for the bonus point win they may well need as the tournament heads to a conclusion.

They need to replicate the purity of that final flourish in Paris to inform their processes and actions in the first quarter of the Italy game and not let the delight of the last gasp win affect their concentration in anything other than a positive way.

Favourites in sporting contests often suffer from an ability to achieve the necessary arousal levels to implement the game they’ve so assiduously trained for. At the same time, underdogs are usually totally switched on from the get-go and, for the visiting side, not allowing the adrenaline to cloud their judgement will be their challenge in the early stages.

The completely professional manner of the success against France indicates that Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team are unlikely to make hot-headed mistakes early on. So, how can they achieve this state of sporting nirvana? It’s about changing the focus. Selecting different goals which, if achieved, will put them in the winning position.

There is no way that Ireland will be jogging out with staged goals of ‘winning by more than 10 points’ or scoring at least four tries’. Instead, they’ll have have individual and collective goals around topics such as the number of carries, yards gained, tackles made, turnovers won etc.

If, at the end of the 80 minutes, they have the requisite number of points on the board to propel them into the game against Wales still in grand slam contention, it will be because they drew on the Paris performance to create the necessary momentum while staying totally in the zone where victory against Italy is created.