The Paddy Wallace Blog – Saracens Match & the New year

The new European Champions Cup is underway, and Ulster are already facing an uphill struggle to qualify, having lost our first match, at home, to Saracens.

This is an interesting time for rugby, and Ulster. The World Cup always gives an insight to the way that rugby should be played at the top level. The winning team’s way of playing has an influence throughout the game, from international through professional to school’s rugby. Watching the way that New Zealand combined their power of the forwards with the creativity of the back line to play both the most exciting and most effective rugby will have made coaches sit up and take note around the world.

The problem is that they also had the best team, with the best in the world in several positions. That means that other teams do not have that level of skill to deliver the same style of play as the All Blacks.

The arrival back of Les Kiss as Director of Rugby will have an impact, and you could tell that he was very disappointed with the result and the performance on Friday night, but he will be working hard to turn things around. The players and supporters were all a bit lacklustre, which was unusual, and maybe brought on by the first really cold night of the winter. It is an interesting chicken and egg situation, which comes first, the supporters encouraging the team or the team inspiring the supporters. I know when I was playing, you could sense the mood of the crowd as well as hear them, and sometimes the nerves of the Ulster supporters were palpable. Other times we were apprehensive running on to the pitch only to be met with totally positive vibes that transformed our performance.

I love watching sport, and the more you see the more you realise how important confidence is to winning and losing. Golfers who sink a couple of putts early on begin to hole everything, but miss a short one and that can knock them off for the rest of the round. Tennis players, apart for Djokovic, can have up and down days, and are affected by early shots.

It is when teams become infected that it is really interesting. Groups of players all playing badly, or well at the same time. The psychological element of sport is where games are won and lost. Great football teams who cannot get the ball in the net, or can’t stop scoring.

On the rugby pitch you can feel great, but then a simple pass goes wayward or a tackle is missed and you are so determined to make amends that you try too hard.

The Ulster team will improve, they will get on a winning run, I have no doubt, but it will need hard work, and a little good fortune to turn things around.

Paddy Wallace

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