Belfast Telegraph

Tackling the self-destruct button in our rugby psyche

Losing it: dejected Irish rugby players after losing the match against Wales which saw an inverse tackle by Bradley Davies
Losing it: dejected Irish rugby players after losing the match against Wales which saw an inverse tackle by Bradley Davies

By Kevin Myers

After my triumphant declaration last week that Wimbledon would never succumb to the sisters' witless demands for equal pay for unequal work, some four years after that spineless place had actually folded on the issue, you might think that I would never offer another opinion on sport.

How little you know.

The very fact that there were two inversion tackles last Sunday, in spite of their potentially lethal consequences, shows how essential it is to create taboos on certain behaviours.

A taboo system is enforced by peers and families rather than by law. Yes, it is a crude and ugly weapon, but it works.

Moreover, taboos are so powerful that they even control the subconscious. This is especially important in a society like ours, which is subconsciously addicted to failure.

Really successful people emphasise the ego and rigorously repress the subconscious. The pre-match rituals in American football are all about the triumph of the conscious mind over the unconscious one. But in the Irish psyche, the sub-conscious seeks inevitable failure.

One of Brian O'Driscoll's greatest qualities is the complete lack of this pathological subconscious desire to lose. He revels in triumph, as so many Irish players clearly do not.

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How often have we seen Irish teams throw victory away, as Ireland did in the dying seconds of Sunday's game?

We even do it before a match, as we did two years ago when Declan Kidney chose a team that could not possibly win in Paris.

After the match, Ronan O'Gara was enraged by my comments. But, actually, O'Gara is a perfect example of how the subconscious mind can dominate behaviour.

For the most part, O'Gara is a single-minded winner who remains ruthlessly in control of his emotions. That is what makes him such a deadly kicker.

Had O'Gara been playing for Wales in their match against France in the World Cup last autumn, he certainly would have been brave enough to have gone for the drop-goal that Stephen Jones repeatedly shirked. O'Gara never allows the evil genie of the subconscious to undermine his self-confidence.

And that same World Cup Wales v France match was written all over last Sunday's game. The Welsh were probably aware that it was an Irish referee who ‘robbed’ them of a victory against France. In fact, Alain Rolland rightly gave Sam Warburton a red card for a potentially neck-breaking inversion tackle on a French player.

However, all the indignation in Wales over the ‘injustice’ of that ruling seems to have subconsciously authorised Bradley Davies on Sunday to launch an even worse tackle, off the ball, on Donnacha Ryan — and right in front of the touch-judge.

This should be taboo behaviour, with one certain outcome: a red card, no team-dinner, home alone on the ferry and no one talking to him for his two-year ban.

After that, how many inverse tackles would there ever be again? Or do we wait for a quadriplegic boy to spend the rest of his days incontinent in a coffin-shaped ventilator before we act?

But, of course, there is still no taboo on inverse tackling and the touch-judge on Sunday — not being Alain Rolland — bottled it, with only a 10-minute suspension resulting.

We were, therefore, shaping up for a double whammy: one, the universal human-weakness for subconsciously imitative behaviour, and two, for the equally subconscious desire by Irish players to screw things up.

Step forward Stephen Ferris and his tragically stupid inverse tackle, under the Irish posts, with a minute to go.

Yet there was nothing new about this. Three years ago, the Grand Slam was nearly squandered by in insane Irish foul right before the referee's eyes in the dying seconds. You've probably forgotten, that, haven't you?

Stephen Jones's subsequent penalty missed by microns. So, this ruthless subconscious desire to lose nearly triumphed then, as it emphatically did at the Aviva on Sunday.

Moreover, after an Irish score, we repeatedly see an Irish knock-on from the restart.

On Sunday, we even saw the reverse: Ginger O'Connell — the Irish skipper, for God's sake — standing in front of the kicker for an Irish restart.

Look. It's very simple. All of those perfect moves on the training pitch count for absolutely nothing if this sub-conscious desire to lose is allowed to trot out on to the pitch as a permanent 16th man.

It's time to introduce a ruthless double taboo: one on inverse tackling, and the other on that mad self-destruct button in the Irish rugby psyche.

And that means absolutely no pity for offenders. Ever.

Belfast Telegraph


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