John Hayes certainly had a decorated and successful career in rugby. The Munster won two Heineken Cups with his native province before winning 105 caps for his country in addition to going on two Lions Tours in 2005 and 2009.
The circumstances surround his selection for both Tours were different. In 2005 he was named in the squad from the outset while in 2009 he was overlooked for the initial selection before being called into proceedings as a result of an injury to Euan Murray.
Hayes played in a number of the warm-up games in 2005 before eventually becoming settled into the midweek side or the ‘Midweek Massive’ as they were known at the time.
With the first game of this year’s Tour less than 24 hours away, Hayes underlines to Pundit Arena’s The Oval Office, the importance of Warren Gatland’s side getting off to a good start so that they can build some momentum.
“Most tournaments that you play in, even in the Six Nations with Ireland, people love to get off to a good start with a victory. The word that gets used an awful lot is momentum. The Lions will be really conscious of that. They just got to New Zealand and the squad has only been together [a short time] because of the finals and competitions.
“It’s going to be challenging but if you look at the players who are involved for the New Zealand Barbarians it’s going to be their easiest game, if you want to call it an easy game in New Zealand.”
Although many are expecting an easy victory for the Lions on Saturday, there will be a lot of pressure on the players. For those who are in the matchday 23, they have the first opportunity to lay down a marker. And with that comes pressure as Hayes explains when he recalls his start for the Lions against Argentina in 2005 in Cardiff before they jetted off to New Zealand.
On that day, Hayes played poorly and was substituted off after 51 minutes of the game. He got another chance against Taranaki in one of the warm-up games but again, did not put in a performance he would have wanted. He puts this down to “wanting it so much” and not being able to relax.
“I just wanted it so much. I was playing extra in the months when the squad was announced coming into it as well. I wanted to play so well but maybe just didn’t perform.
“Later on, in the Tour down in New Zealand, I just had a look at things and relaxed a bit and the last number of midweek games which I played in on the 2005 Tour, I just relaxed and I ended up playing better. It’s all about experience and how players react to being in the Lions environment.”
It might be easier said than done but relaxing and treating the upcoming games just like any other is probably the best way to ensure a good performance. For Hayes, thankfully he got his form back for the rest of the Tour and played a good role in a successful midweek team.
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