Friday 27 April 2018

There is no such thing as a lost cause

Will Greenwood

It's called Fergie Time. Manchester United may not have managed it last week, but Alex Ferguson's sides so often manage a great escape in the final minutes. They understand that as the sands of time run out, the weight of expectation can all but crush those in the lead.

Rugby is no different, even if the red zone comes after 80 minutes. The losing side have a desperation that makes them dangerous, and if you want proof of what can happen, you need only look at the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup.

Go back a few weeks, and Glasgow were behind at home to Bath. The clock ticked on, and Duncan Weir pulled back in the pocket for a speculative dropped goal. It was half charged down and if you had paused the moment there you would have seen there was no way Richie Gray, the Glasgow second row, should have got to it first. But that's the beauty of Fergie Time -- it warps reactions and changes perceptions.

There was, it has to be said, an element of luck in that the Glasgow players were suddenly played onside by Bath's half charge-down. Nick Abendanon sprinted straight at it, it bounced funny, he missed it. Gray lolloped past him, gathered the ball and scored. Glasgow won, Bath weren't sure what had happened.

That weekend, Leinster had been outplayed by Montpellier. They were bullied all day, and yet still found themselves in with a chance at the end. Gordon D'Arcy, though, knocked on under the Montpellier posts and it looked as if their chances were gone. All Montpellier needed to do was dot the ball down and claim a scrum. Their scrum had been dominant. Instead, in the panic of the final countdown, Montpellier kicked weakly.

Leinster took a quick line-out and launched one final attack. Remy Martin, the Montpellier back row, conceded a penalty that Jonny Sexton nailed between the uprights. So Leinster got an away draw and in France that is as good as a victory.

If you want another example of Irish luck, look no further than our third moment of Fergie Time during the first weekend of the tournament. Munster played an amazing get-out-of-jail-free card when Northampton should have been home. Had the referee not done them in the eye all night, the game would have been over by the 70-minute mark. But it wasn't, and as the time faded, so too did Northampton's youngsters. Territory conceded, penalties given away, errors made, and with them Munster's red army marched upfield.

They turned the screw, stayed calm, trusted each other and did their jobs like true professionals. In the end, they went through 41 phases of possession before Ronan O'Gara, the greatest player the Heineken Cup has known, stepped back and delivered the fatal blow. Years and years of heartache has taught this team that there is always time. Just to show it was no fluke, Munster did it again in week two.

And don't think it is just about winning games. It's not. In the scoring structure of the cup, getting a losing bonus point or snatching a draw can make all the difference.

Players need to embrace the pressure, prepare for its twists and understand what they need to do as a team. Fergie Time teaches the greatest sporting lesson you can ever learn: the knowledge that there is no such thing as a lost cause.


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