conway try 2020
Some of my fondest memories have been playing for Ireland against Wales. Each game was significant in its own way.

I was never big on taking notes during team meetings, preferring instead to be more present and absorbing what was being said. What I did do a lot of in my own time was journalling: writing down my own thoughts, reflecting on the little things that I was grateful for in my life and generally just keeping stock of my day to day life and career. It’s been enlightening over the last couple of months since my retirement to look back through those and, in hindsight, identify a correlation between how I was feeling and how I would perform.

There’s that term in psychology, ‘flow state’, when someone is completely focused on the task at hand; just completely in the zone. It’s fascinating to me and I recognise now that I was in that mental state when I played at my very best.

There is an internal trigger to access the flow state known as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’. This is when the level of challenge presented slightly stretches your own perceived skill set. There is a sweet spot of focus and intense presence in the task at hand that often leads to peak performance. I believe that this, amongst a number of other triggers, explains a bit more reliably why some players save their best performances for the biggest occasions.

Unfortunately, it's not possible to be in the flow state every week, which explains why world-class levels of performance are so hard to sustain over a longer period of time - but today I find myself interested in how and why people get into that flow. On the days where it doesn’t happen organically, how can people get to know themselves and their triggers better in order to manufacture something at least close to that state? It’s something that’s applicable to all walks of life, not just sport.

I wasn’t as aware as I should have been of the term ‘flow state’ and the specific triggers - both internal and external - to access it, but it really does explain those days when everything you touch goes above and beyond expectations. Another really interesting flow trigger is ‘spite’. Now I understand the word itself gets a bad rap, but when spite is applied in a healthy dose - not just to prove others wrong, but yourself and those that believe in you - it can be incredibly powerful. The Welsh will no doubt be tapping into this all week, as most people (myself included) aren’t giving them much of a chance at a win in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

In 2019, we played Wales in a World Cup warm-up match in Cardiff. It was a big moment for a lot of us because the squad was being named the following day - who would be getting the dreaded phone call? I had a really good day, even though for anyone watching on, the game wouldn’t stick out in the memory, it sticks out for me because it was unbelievably important to nail down my place on that plane to Japan. Also the fact that we were playing in Cardiff, at a stadium I’d first visited as a teenager to watch Munster play in that unforgettable European Cup final against Biarritz. It gives me goosebumps remembering that day.

The Wales game in the 2020 Championship in Dublin was, in my view, the best rugby match I ever played. It was only my second start in the Six Nations, at the beginning of Andy Farrell’s reign. I’d started against Scotland the week before and had a decent enough game, but I was actually carrying a couple of injuries into the Welsh week; similar to what I recently described, I wasn’t disclosing it in full to the medics. It was a hip/groin issue that would have pulled me from the match, so I had to box clever during training. I knew I wasn’t being reckless, but I knew this was a critical point of my career and I had to give myself every chance to get out on the pitch.

My focus had to be so specific to every single moment, doing everything possible to get my body right for Saturday’s match. I was in a different mental headspace than I’d ever been, in a good way. Because I was so aware that this niggle might rob me of a huge opportunity, I did everything above and beyond to what I normally did (which was pretty detailed anyway). It’s strange when you see how these perceived negative situations actually transfer to your best performances. It wasn’t just the try I scored that secured the bonus point, it was all parts and pieces of my game coming together in synchronicity and to a standard that I had never played at before. The mental side of sport is so important.

Today, Ireland are quite clearly the stronger team and squad compared to Wales, but Warren Gatland’s sides have done big jobs on Ireland in the past. They’ve traditionally been the standard-setters with the amount of Championships and Grand Slams won, but playing Wales in Dublin is a completely different proposition to playing them in Cardiff. That’s just logical. I would imagine Wales will have a good few doubts about their ability to win in Dublin considering how strong Ireland are at the moment, and Gatland’s second reign being in its infancy and all the upheaval that has entailed.

That’s not to say Wales’ new boys aren’t going to have their own storied careers in the years to come - they’ve got amazing players like Tommy Reffell, who’s transferred his club form to the international game, which is never easy - just that the odds are stacked against them in the here and now. If Wales had played Ireland the week after we won in France, with the lads emotionally drained from such a big performance, they may have smelt blood. But instead they’ll be facing a team in the middle of an unbeaten campaign that’s had a chance to recover.

We may even see Ireland’s strongest performance of this year’s Championship on Saturday.


Former Munster winger Andrew Conway scored at least one try in 10 of his 30 Tests for Ireland (15 tries in total), with Ireland recording a 100% win rate when he got on the scoresheet.