Ireland joy as Nick Timoney highlights mindset value alongside physical ability
Dealing with the mental side of rugby can be as strenuous as shipping the big hits on the pitch.
Nick Timoney knows that more that most - the backrow has been a revelation since taking over the Ulster No8 shirt from Marcell Coetzee.
Timoney made 14 starts and scored four tries as Ulster finished second to Leinster in their Pro14 Conference and made the European Challenge Cup semi-final.
The reward for Timoney has been earning a first call-up into Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad for the two-Test summer series against Japan and the USA at the Aviva Stadium.
Timoney was dominant on both sides of the ball this season for Ulster, in attack as well as scoring four tries, the backrow made 172 metres off 64 carries and beat 10 defenders. In defence he won 14 turnovers and made 112 tackles.
Those stats earned Timoney the Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year honour but it hasn’t been all highs for the 25-year-old since he made his Ulster debut against Cardiff in April 2017. But he has learned to cope with the successes and disappointments of rugby.
“I’m convinced now that rugby is more mindset-based, or a large part of it is how you mentally approach it,” he said. “I feel like I’ve always had the same physical qualities in terms of athleticism as some of the guys who were playing for Ireland.
“There’s been times in the past when I’ve had good runs of form and it might come and go.
“This time, what’s pleased me the most, is there’s been times when there’s been a four-week break, a two-week break, a game like Zebre when I didn’t play or there’s even been games when I haven’t played well...but I think I’ve really tried to make sure that this isn’t just riding the crest of a wave, that there’s a very direct process each week that’s getting me in a good place to play.
“I think I’ve been fairly happy with how I’ve gone the last while, (but) this is also the season where I’ve spent the longest period of time out of the team since making my debut.
“That period helped me a lot, I thought things over and after that I was more sure of my identity as a player.
“I maintain that it was more of a mental clarity, I’d been focused on the wrong things.”
Timoney’s more relaxed attitude has managed to pay dividends with a deserved call-up for Ireland.
“This year when it came to Ulster selection it wasn’t something that I wasn’t going to think about or control (Ireland call-up),” he said. “I try not to get too worried about that kind of stuff because I think if you end up playing for your own personal reasons I don’t play as well as I do when I’m just think about winning.
“If you stress too much on how you are going to play that does not get the best out of me, what gets the best out of me is being part of a team and part of the collective and you want to win for your team-mates, for the fans sake and for your family’s sake.”
“I think that makes me play better than if I focus on if I have this amount of stats, on tackles or carries.”
Eight Ulster players in total have been included in Andy Farrell’s 37-man Ireland squad for the two July tests against Japan and the USA in Dublin.
Three of the eight Ulster players are previously uncapped.
Winger Robert Baloucoune’s season was curtailed by injury but scored three tries in seven starts for Ulster and was previously part of a Farrell training squad.
Tom O’Toole, also in a previous training camp, has been capped at U20 level. A modern prop, O’Toole will face competition from Finlay Bealham and John Ryan for the starting tight head spot.
Timoney, another graduate of the Ireland 7s programme like Baloucoune, is rewarded for his fine string of performances during the closing months of the season.
Hooker Rob Herring started four of Ireland’s Six Nations games so will be looking to add to his 21 caps.
Full back Will Addison is a surprise inclusion in the squad, capped four times by Ireland, he made only three appearances for Ulster last season. He had been side-lined since January 2020 before making two appearances from the bench and was sent off in his only start of the season against Munster.
Out half Billy Burns, centre Stuart McCloskey and back three player Jacob Stockdale make up the Ulster contingent.
Prop Eric O’Sullivan and scrum half John Cooney were not considered due to injury and there were no call-ups for exciting young duo James Hume and Michael Lowry.
Connacht also have three uncapped players Caolin Blade, Tom Daly and Paul Boyle as do Leinster with Harry Byrne, Peter Dooley and Ross Moloney.
Munster duo Gavin Coombes and Fineen Wycherley make up the potential debutants.
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