Andrew Porter no longer 'getting sick before games with nerves' as he savours 'energy' of Cardiff crowd in Ireland's opener
There’s a balance to be struck between preparing to play at a hostile venue and over-egging the pudding.
The recent football documentary about Arsenal last season is worth recalling ahead of Ireland’s clash with Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
In ‘All of Nothing’, coach Miguel Arteta prepares the team for a visit to Anfield by playing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at training. Before the game, he consistently bigs up the hostility of the Liverpool crowd.
Then, on the day, Arteta lost his own head by going toe to toe with Jurgen Klopp on the touchline.
His team lost their composure and the game, 4-0, and it now looks like a cautionary tale for teams getting ready to play in grounds renowned for their vociferous home supports.
There’s a balance to be struck between being ready for the noise and being overwhelmed by it.
Ireland’’s performance coach Gary Keegan has been preparing the team behind the scenes to prepare the team mentally for the Principality Stadium where they have not won a Six Nations game since 2013.
The stadium is sold out in anticipation of Warren Gatland’s return as head coach and despite the early kick-off it will be raucous.
For Andrew Porter, it’s all about embracing the occasion and relishing the chance to silence the crowd.
“I remember I used to use it real negatively, I used to go inside myself and I'd be getting sick before games with the nerves, and then with the crowd it would be doubling that kind of anxiety,” the loosehead prop explained.
“When you get a few more games under your belt you learn how to deal with that.
"It's a huge battle playing away from home, but something you really relish now, and use that energy to your advantage.
"You're blocking out, focusing on what you're doing around the park. It's tough when you're in a stadium like the Principality to hear yourself think, but you have to do your best in terms of slowing your thought process down, and not letting the occasion get to you.
“That's something I've really worked on, and the coaches and sports psychologist Gary Keegan has done really well with some guys who are breaking into the team, and might not be used to those big games and big stadiums.
"Some lads haven't played there before, and Faz and the other coaches, and players, have been letting the younger lads know what to expect going over to Cardiff.”
Porter expects Gatland to have a galvanising effect on his team.
“It's the first game back with Gats at the wheel, and they've gone with a real experienced selection of players,” he said.
"I remember back to 2018, and when we did the Grand Slam that year, and when we went away to France, that's one of the most hostile places you can go, and we came away with a win there. And in recent times against New Zealand, down there, the home of rugby, why is it any different playing away from home?
“I think we're more than capable of doing it both home and away.
"The crowd will inevitably get behind Gats at home.
”We're really excited for the challenge that's been put out against us. It's a real tough place to go, especially with the talented players they have. It's one of those games you look forward to every second year.
“It's a real cauldron, going into the Principality, and we'll need to have our best performance on the day.”
Ireland have been preparing well in Portugal ahead of the big opener in the Welsh capital. Andy Farrell names his team tomorrow (Thursday), before they make their way to Cardiff.
"It's been a really good week here, a bit of sun for a change, a bit of a change to the weather back home, but we're really excited to get into this competition now, and hopefully kick it off with a win in Wales,” Porter said.
Embracing the atmosphere will be central to their ability to get off to a winning start.