Leaders must prove talk is not cheap
Published 25/02/2011 | 05:00
Communication has become the buzzword around the Irish camp this week. Is it or is it not an issue? Sunday should help provide an answer but communication has always been central to aspirations of success on a rugby pitch.
For those of us who played with a debilitating combination of Mr Magoo eyesight and a natural aversion to tackling, dialogue with your team-mates was essential. At kick-off time on gloomy Saturday afternoons or beneath watery floodlights, directions towards the flight of the ball -- "two steps left, one forward, now... jump!" -- were the difference between claiming possession and making a idiot of yourself. In defence, the phrase "he's yours!" also came in very useful.
In the line-out, it is possible to recall a time when intellectually challenged props were promised drink in an attempt to focus their vacuous minds for lifting duties, while intellectual capability was always preferable in your line-out caller (as opposed to dopes using the "same again" call within earshot of opponents).
With so many calls to master, communication is organisationally vital and players need to have their homework done. There is the story of the Highfield scrum-half calling a back-row move 'Highfield One' during a derby clash in Cork. "What's Highfield One?" asked his forgetful No 8.
"F*** all for years," was the scornful response of an opposition forward.
Leadership and talk go hand in hand and Ireland have enough players in their side against Scotland who are capable of inspiring by word and deed. Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell are Lions captains, Rory Best has been captaining sides all his career and Jamie Heaslip is a natural leader.
Leaders need to know when to encourage a player and when to berate him. It depends on the individual, giving some players a bollocking can send them into their shells, other see it as a motivational challenge.
Knowing the difference is the essence of communication and leadership.
As the link between forwards and backs, there is a massive onus on scrum-half Eoin Reddan as well. He is the verbal dictator at the breakdown, directing his pack to the areas they are most needed and communicating with his backline to determine the best point of release.
Outside Reddan, it is a case of 'Look Who's Talking Now', as Ronan O'Gara returns to bark orders and issue diktats from the out-half slot. O'Gara has been centrally involved in the two most cohesive passages of plays of Ireland's first two Six Nations outings.
Against Italy, he masterminded the end-game, victory-securing play when, from the kick-off to his own drop goal, Ireland were, finally, talking and working together in unison. There was an equally convincing example against the French which began with O'Gara's arrowed kick to touch and culminated in Heaslip's try on the far side.
Out-halves need to be vocal. You will regularly see No 10s speaking to their centres with hand covering mouth to disguise their instructions from opponents while forwards always feel more comfortable if they can hear their out-half in loud, verbal control behind them.
As the build-up to today's General Election has forcibly demonstrated, convincing communication depends on intelligence and conviction -- intelligence to make the right calls in the right areas and at the right time, conviction to convey the belief that it will be carried out successfully.
With the World Cup looming, it is no harm to recall the lack of conviction behind Ireland's desperate attempts to avoid ignominy in their infamous pool exit to Argentina at Lens during the 1999 tournament.
Needing a try to snatch victory, Dion O'Cuinneagain's side opted for a 14-man line-out salvation tactic that smacked of desperation and ended with the Ireland players on their knees at the final whistle.
O'Driscoll was playing that evening and, 11 and a half years later, is adamant communication is not a problem for Ireland these days. Sunday will prove the veracity of that assertion.
After conceding a bad score at College Park many years ago, the Trinity captain was overheard exhorting his troops under the posts: "C'mon guys, that's enough, let's arouse ourselves."
The opposition waited with bated breath for Trinity's excitement to kick in but it never materialised, emphasising the point that, unless backed up by actions, talk is cheap.