It was a touching gesture before the All Blacks played Argentina in Australia. The Kiwi captain came forward and laid an All Black jersey with a number 10 and ‘Maradona’ inscribed on the back of it.
he Pumas nodded their acknowledgement of the gesture and then the Kiwis proceeded to knock the stuffing out of Argentina.
The 38-0 drubbing was a cutting reminder to all that you can’t do what the Pumas did to New Zealand two weeks earlier and not expect cold-blooded retribution.
The All Blacks possess an edge in their performance which inescapably tells you they would be quite happy to kill someone on the pitch if it meant that they would win.
New Zealand are a long way off their 2011 and 2015 vintage best – they still have real talent and when they fire they are formidable.
Last Saturday’s showing was a reaffirmation that they still have that edge to their performance. Last Sunday’s match at the Aviva was confirmation that Ireland have undoubtedly lost theirs.
How is it that a team can play like a million dollars most of the time? Why is it that some teams play with great verve and that their performances are consistently punctuated with a hard-nosed intensity and purpose? Is it one player, a cabal of players, or is it the coach?
Many of you will have watched the outstanding The Last Dance which gave unparalleled access to the inner workings of a champion team.
Even though the series was produced by one of Michael Jordan’s companies, I still think you got a microscope on someone that a biography or autobiography could not come close to. It was a privilege to see such sporting history.
In the immediate aftermath, quite a number of Jordan’s former team-mates made it known that they were unhappy with the documentary series and with Jordan in general.
The complaint made was that the series was too Jordan-centric and it painted him in a light that was decided by Jordan’s production company.
They also said Jordan was a b*****d. They said Jordan’s behaviour was appalling. The way he treated his team-mates, bullying them, threatening them, intimidating them, having altercations and no-holds-barred punch-ups in training with them. He would belittle, antagonise, provoke and goad them constantly.
Jordan’s winning mentality, his win-at-all-costs attitude, the brooding and malevolent moods when they lost were unbearable, they said.
These athletes lived in a dog-eat-dog league in an uncompromising and brutal professional sport.
If they wanted someone to hold their hand, find friendship or work in a calm environment then they should have joined the knitting circle.
I found it truly unbelievable that after Jordan propelled them – not single-handedly but principally – to six NBA championships in eight years that they were cribbing.
There would be a price to pay – a price for the fame, prestige and adulation. The sense of esteem and self-worth by winning your national championship six times.
The Bulls not only won it, they captured the hearts and minds of the world by the manner of how they did it. Audacity and intrepidity were the badges they wore on their chests.
If the price was that Jordan would bully you and press you and force you to go to levels that you had never gone before – so what!
If I had the chance of just one NBA championship I would be asking which arm or leg do you want.
Six of them? I’d die happy whenever the deal decreed that I go.
These whingers giving out that Jordan was unkind to them or didn’t show respect or bullied them. Some people don’t realise how lucky they are. The financial worth procured from winning those titles would more than help pay for their therapists.
In the weeks and months after Ireland’s failure in the 2019 World Cup there was a sense of schadenfreude – almost glee that Joe Schmidt had gone.
Some articles in the press were far from complimentary. A number of players, including the captain, gave Schmidt a couple of jabs and one uppercut.
Now that Schmidt was gone the players could be canvassed and asked to speak openly about the headmaster. How overbearing was he? How controlling? How quickly could he tear you asunder at a video session or on the field? How ruthless could he be in impressing how the team should play?
He never once let up in his one-to-ones, we were told. There was no trash-talking, like Jordan, but both men knew they had to press buttons to get where they wanted to be.
For the players, if you want the rainbow you have got to put up with the rain.
Three championships, including a Grand Slam, in six years. Winning records against South Africa, Australia, France and Argentina. Two wins out of five against New Zealand which should have been three. A winning series in the southern hemisphere.
Most importantly of all – respect. Ireland under Schmidt could beat anyone.
This is not the old adage that ‘Ireland on their day . . .’ Schmidt primed his side so that day would be the day they would win.
Ireland under Schmidt played with confidence underpinned by the basics.
Ireland scored more tries and won more matches under Schmidt than any other coach in Irish rugby history. They had an edge.
Me? I played in the ’80s and ’90s. A championship? A Grand Slam? Beating the All Blacks? Which arm or leg would you like?
So to the players and the press who were happy to see Schmidt go – welcome to the new world.
This is not a transition – it’s a regression.
We are already back to the days when New Zealand would come over and know they were going to walk all over us.
The modern game has become so segmented and compartmentalised that if your coach isn’t up to it your team will fail.
The modern game is all about coaching. Giving the players more autonomy and freedom to express themselves may be great for the players and it might lighten the mood but it won’t win you any titles.
I feel that Irish players need to be handled firmly, told what to do and controlled by a strong voice. They need to be given an ABC instruction manual and the correct game-plan and a Plan B. Most of all, there has to be a fear factor.
England bellyache and grumble about the severity of Eddie Jones’s regime, but they win.
It’s not pretty but they win and they do so because he has a vice-like control on his squad and he has a strong understanding of how he wants to play the game.
Ireland play Scotland on Saturday in the Aviva. There is a good chance the Scots will win.
One of the great things about Schmidt’s sides was that everyone seemed to play well in the team performance. Since the resumption of Test rugby – even in winning performances – very few of the players are playing to par.
Schmidt’s record against Scotland was: played eight, won seven. At no stage in his career would Schmidt countenance losing to the Scots.
Barely a year on from thrashing them in Japan, I get the sense that Ireland would be happy to fall over the line a point ahead of our Celtic rivals.
If I had the magic wand, Covid would be gone and Joe would be back for another four years irrespective of the bellyaching from the players or the press.