Can you delegate motivation? If not, where does it come from? The motivation on show these past few weeks has been exceptional. On the flip side, if you don’t want to do something – such as team selection – one excuse is as good as another.
As for the teams, what drives Leinster? Is it the famous European nine- dart finish of a clean sweep in the pool followed by three knock out stage victories? Leinster can do it. What motivates Munster? Is it that final winner takes all pool game in the middle of their challenging times? Is it Connacht “backdooring” Europe for next season’s Champion’s Cup that keeps them motivated? And what about poor, poor Ulster – what motivates them?
Regardless of the obvious team cultures that have evolved over the years, it is individuals and the motivation that drives them that really interests. When Racing 92 were down and almost out, what was Donnacha Ryan thinking? His team were trailing at home in the U Arena 28-30 with Racing restarting the game on 74 minutes, 15 seconds. From that restart Ryan earned a penalty by covering 35 metres in four seconds to pilfer from Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue and Ian Keatley. What drove him? Was it a Six Nations selection opportunity?
In contrast, Ian Keatley’s brilliant restart after that Racing penalty was on 75 minutes 55 seconds. Only one Munster player – Andrew Conway, maybe their shortest – challenged as the ball landed 17 metres from Keatley’s boot. There were no Munster secondrows or backrows who could/would cover half the distance that Ryan covered in his Racing jersey. Racing secured the kick off. Game over.
A word – Munster have a cracking chance at home to Toulon but if they lose Jean Kleyn their journey will not be pretty.
When Munster loosehead prop David Kilcoyne left the field with injury far too early last Sunday I was immediately drawn to James Cronin. I’ve long admired Cronin; he’s a brilliant player but with plenty of dog. That beautiful symmetry of brilliance and dog was especially evident in his breakdown technique. I lost count of the number of times he rescued a poorly positioned Munster ball carrier vulnerable on the deck.
Donnacha Ryan claims the restart[embedded content]
A controlled anger appears in him as he spots the opposition threatening the Munster ball; he wants, in a way, to neutralise the threat. But his actions are pure technique – his upper-body height is inches off the deck with equally well positioned feet. Suffice to say it would take a serious beast to better him over the ball. But with less than half an hour’s international rugby from his three caps I wonder what he was thinking as he took the pitch? February 2016 was his last international run so was he thinking there’s a genuine Six Nations opportunity in 2018?
Cronin is brilliant, but he is behind Jack McGrath, Cian Healy and David Kilcoyne (all of whom are pretty good!). Donnacha Ryan is in France, so totally out of the picture so to witness both their motivation was wonderful.
Then there’s Simon Zebo who has clearly developed an entirely different motivation with the international door shutting so violently. What makes him tick? Whilst acknowledging his flaws (ie an exacting rucking technique) he has so many electric positives that I’m still convinced a modern international transition game could be built around him.
But with Keith Earls the ever increasing backroom team along with sports psychologists could combine to complete a PhD on his ability to bounce back post-injury better and better. Those psychologists may not wish to admit it but it is impossible to motivate someone to the degree I’ve seen players like Earls and Ryan push themselves.
Why do I wonder about motivation? With the Six Nations kicking off next weekend, I wonder what motivates Joe Schmidt? Clearly winning the Six Nations whilst building the ever increasing circle of international players at his disposal – ie Jordan Larmour et al.
But is RWC 2019 on his mind? Of course it is. For all he has achieved I wonder is he now risk amenable or risk averse? The Six Nations diary has Ireland away in Paris followed by three home games against the “lesser” nations with England the last game in London. With French rugby once again rebuilding, the diary couldn’t be better positioned. It may be foolish to expect a win in Paris but a Schmidt vicelike grip on the game will eventually erode any glimmer of hope Jacques Brunel has for his French fledglings.
Squeezing the life out of France is an understandable method to get the opening win and generate momentum. But beyond that the sub unit selection will be fascinating, notably the backrow and back three. I’m not convinced the obvious starting backrow is as obvious anymore with players like Jack Conan adding huge value. And the way the Leinster back three were able to convert (transition) crappy defensive ball into flat out attack was wonderful to watch.
As noted here many times, the ball is in play is international rugby for about 36 minutes every match. Although the try scoring per game is improving each season, in the the whole 2016 Nations a paltry seven per cent of all tries (five) were from turnovers. England claimed three, leaving two for the rest.
There’s no doubt that Schmidt’s team will continue to excel around the key building blocks of lineout, scrum, breakdown etc but, with the arrival of Lamour, Bundee Aki and many others such as all-rounders like Tadhg Beirne, how we transition is ripe for exploitation by RWC 2019. Motivation?
PS. For all of Eddie Jones’ guff this week I wonder has he taught his players the laws of the game – how to combat Italian breakdowns?