Wednesday 24 July 2019

Isa Nacewa: Cut runs deep in stressful week for everyone involved

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will keep an open mind over this weekend and will pay attention to each and every performance his squad members put in for their provinces and against Wales this afternoon
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will keep an open mind over this weekend and will pay attention to each and every performance his squad members put in for their provinces and against Wales this afternoon

Isa Nacewa

There is no getting away from the fact that for Ireland’s World Cup hopefuls tomorrow is D-Day.

Joe Schmidt will keep an open mind over this weekend and will pay attention to each and every performance his squad members put in for their provinces and against Wales this afternoon.

Then, he will pick up the phone and deliver the news to the unlucky few who have toiled all summer but won’t be going to the World Cup.

This week will have been mentally taxing for every one of those players. Sure, the guys who started games during the Six Nations can have a degree of confidence about their plans for September and October, but there are plenty of players who know that they must perform to cement their place in Joe’s thoughts.

Ireland's Paul O'Connell and head coach Joe Schmidt during the captain's run
Ireland's Paul O'Connell and head coach Joe Schmidt during the captain's run

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Delivering a performance in these circumstances takes its toll on the body and the mind. They have got to do absolutely everything to show what they can do, but at the same time they are fully aware that they are the talk of the town.

If they listen to the radio, they pick up a newspaper or go online – even when they go to their local shop to pick up a litre of milk – they’ll have people talking about the final cut.

Any down-time these guys can get, any distractions from rugby, is good for them this week because they have to shut it all out and concentrate on that one last performance.

Everyone prepares differently, but if you are 100pc confident of your ability and your processes, then you try and block everything else out.

Some guys have kids, some study... any positive distraction will take your mind off that final cut and the 31-man squad. It can’t be just any distraction, it has to be positive; getting back to your family or hitting the books is a good way of taking your mind off it. But a negative distraction just adds to that pressure that mounts on you.

Joe and the rest of the coaches will leave every possible door open until after the Wales game.

Jack McGrath starts in the front row for Ireland
Jack McGrath starts in the front row for Ireland

There have been some guys who have been down at Leinster this week who got their chance to play against Moseley last night and they know the coaches will be looking at their game. It’s just another proving ground for players to get a bit of extra mental edge to try and convince Joe.

For those at the provinces, they’ve had to come into a different environment where they haven’t been for the last eight weeks and they’ve got to pick themselves up, mentally and physically, to play for their clubs and prove a point. Joe will have been in contact with the coaches at the provinces to ensure that the World Cup squad members can be given time, but he’ll also have checked up on their training performances while they’ve been away from Carton House.

He’ll have spoken to their trainers to see how they’ve been lifting in the gym, if they’ve done speed sessions or what kind of work they have been doing.

He was at our game last night, but there’s no doubt he’ll be up early to digest events at Goldacre where some Ulster players, including Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble, were in action against Edinburgh last night. He’ll do all that in and around the Welsh game to ensure each guy gets a fair go. He doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to preparation. Joe’s got a great mentality in that you have got to train during the week to play and he encourages genuine competition from everyone in the squad. The youngest guy in the squad is expected to push the most experienced and, if he does enough, he’ll get the reward.

There is an expectation on you to perform; if you’re a 10-year veteran or a first year Academy player, you have got to deliver on what he wants and, if a senior player performs poorly, he’ll place his confidence in the young guy stepping in.

We’ve seen it over the years at Leinster in the amount of opportunity he gave to young guys and now those guys are blossoming at international level, so he’s a fair coach. For those who don’t make the cut, next week will be a hard one. The reality is that there will be a lot of disappointed guys who will have to take their time getting over the blow.

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But when they come to terms with the initial shock, they have to realise that they’re only one injury away from going. Unfortunately, the nature of the game means it’s guaranteed to happen and they’re the next cab off the rank.

Joe will watch all ofPro12 games, he’ll find the time to keep an eye on those who are on standby and the best thing any of those players can do is to take their time to digest their disappointment and then re-channel it into playing for their provinces.

The league starts next week and the players love playing for their clubs, the guys here love playing for Leinster. A lot could be forgotten in a week.

You’re a 50-minute flight from meeting up with the team if any injuries occur during the World Cup. Shane Jennings was called up a day before they flew to New Zealand in 2011 after David Wallace’s misfortune.

There’s no chance of any of them going fishing like Stephen Donald famously did in 2011 as the Pro12 got under way before, after a glut of out-half injuries later, he came on for the All Blacks in the World Cup final.

Some guys will be disappointed tomorrow and, on Monday, they’ll walk into their provincial dressing-room to be surrounded by a group of 30 players ready to help them out.

That’s the beauty of team sport, you’ve guys who can pick you up when you’re down or to leave you alone with your disappointment if that’s the right thing to do.

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