Tuesday 25 June 2019

Fear of missing out drives Irish forward

Every player knows that the Schmidt machine will carry on with or without them towards the World Cup
Every player knows that the Schmidt machine will carry on with or without them towards the World Cup
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The acronym FoMO - Fear of Missing Out - was added to the Oxford Dictionary two months before Joe Schmidt's first game as Ireland boss. It was good timing.

A fear of missing out sums up everything that is good about Schmidt's Ireland. No player wants to be on the outside looking in with Ireland two wins away from chalking up a Grand Slam in a World Cup year.

Even the retired Brian O'Driscoll admitted that the one regret he may have is not being part of a Schmidt squad at a World Cup.

So what's oiling this Ireland machine? Irrespective of the fact that they've conceded only one try in this Six Nations, why do they look like an unbreakable force?

My favourite moment from Ireland's win over England wasn't Robbie Henshaw's try. Or Johnny Sexton's tackle on George Ford. It was the moment Paul O'Connell and Sexton hugged each other in the first half after Sexton won a penalty.

It wasn't a moment that would decide the outcome. Yet it had all the feel of a decisive moment when O'Connell gave his hand of approval to the out-half and they ended up hugging each other. It was a simple but stirring show of unity.

And the message to England and everyone else watching was clear: you won't break us.

The enigma around Schmidt means opposition coaches probably spend more time second-guessing themselves. But the players are not getting enough credit from us.

They are not robotic when it comes to the game-plan; the senior players discuss it with Schmidt every Sunday evening before the start of the week.

It's their game-plan too. If it wasn't being driven by the players, we wouldn't have seen O'Connell and Sexton's instinctive show of emotion to each other.

The players have also created an aura around themselves. Check-out the optics today. You won't see a player looking vulnerable with his hands on his head blowing hard as he catches his breath. You will see O'Connell walking tall and strong to their lineouts. And you will see energetic back-slapping when a player does something positive.

If Ireland win today for a record-breaking 11th consecutive victory, this squad could become our version of The Invincibles. We've hung labels around other Irish teams. The Celtic Tiger squad which beat England at Croke Park in '07 but crashed at the World Cup six months later were name-checked as the Golden Generation.

Those players went through a hell of a lot together which eventually culminated in the 2009 Grand Slam. In an interview last weekend, Jonny Wilkinson said the England players who won the 2003 World Cup "knew so much about one another, we'd been through so much together. A lot of the stuff took place instinctively: it was by feel rather than by design or communication".

This Ireland squad runs off a different riff. The move which resulted in Henshaw's try against England was created by design and communication. Conor Murray raised his finger to signal the blue-chip move and the Boy Wonder finished it impressively. This was an effort fresh from the training pitch.

This squad is backboned by obvious leaders but the backline in particular is an extreme mix of Lions stars and Ireland rookies. Look at the centre: Jared Payne and Henshaw barely knew each other when they started Ireland's win over South Africa last November. Yet not once in this championship or in that Boks game was the phrase "they're playing like they never met before" been said about them.

Some players are at the opposite ends of the career spectrum, like O'Connell and Henshaw. The Ireland captain will win his 100th cap today, in what could be his final championship ahead of his last World Cup.

World rugby is only getting to know Henshaw. Is Henshaw as desperate for success as O'Connell is?

Damn right he is. Henshaw's tackle count (he's the leading back in the overall stats with 45) tells you everything you need to know.

Former Offaly football manager Eugene McGee told me in an interview years ago that the key to their win over Kerry in the 1982 All-Ireland final was that each individual - even down to the last sub - had to believe they could beat the Kingdom.

That belief is coursing through this Ireland squad. I asked Peter O'Mahony why there seems to be a great spirit in this side and he put it down to a "great work-rate, a will to win and we'd always show up for each other".

When was the last time a player played poorly under Schmidt? It's so rare that you can only pick out particular moments which, if anything, surprised us. Like Rory Best's yellow card against France (to which he responded with a brilliant game against England).

This Ireland team is so bloody hard to get into because players perform as close to their optimum on nearly every occasion.

How exciting that is for each player - knowing that your team-mates are going to come close to hitting all the targets because that's the way it works under Schmidt's watch.

Every player knows that the Schmidt (pictured) machine will carry on with or without them towards the World Cup. Every player knows this squad could achieve something special.

Whatever about putting the fear of god into opponents, players also have to contend with the fear of missing out.

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