Rugby is an easy game. Or at least it is if you are sat in the stand.
No 20st Samoans trying to use you as a tooth-pick, an elevated vantage point allowing you to see every hole in defence and no burning calves fogging your decision-making process as thousands of eyes scrutinise your every twist and turn.
For those on the park it is a different story, and it is a simple trap to fall into when assessing a player or game – detaching yourself from the physical and mental realities of sporting combat.
James Fitzpatrick offered a refreshingly honest insight when asked the reasons behind Newcastle Falcons’ second-half slump at Saracens last Sunday; 40 minutes of whirlwind rugby which saw them conceding 30 points away to the Premiership leaders and registering none in reply.
That it came after a hugely encouraging first half made the frustration all the more concentrated.
“We matched them for the first half, but it was Charlie Hodgson’s try just before half-time that turned the game,” said Fitzpatrick, pumped up and rejuvenated for tomorrow’s LV= Cup visit of London Irish.
“We switched off for that minute or so, conceded the try and went into half-time 10-3 down when we probably should have been in the lead.
“We played well for the first half-hour, kicking for territory, pinning them back and stopping them playing. That frustrated them into conceding a few penalties, which we should have taken, but after half-time we went away from the plan.”
Expanding on the reasons for veering away from the script, he added with candour: “Perhaps that was because we were a little bit bored of what we were doing – I don’t know.
“We conceded a couple of penalties, then a couple of tries, and once they got going it was hard to stop them.
“You get tired, both physically and mentally.
“You are more and more fatigued, and you are having to constantly think what your next job is and where you need to be.
“It can only take one person making a tiny mistake, and the opposition are through a gap with their tails up. Away to Saracens is one of the hardest places in the league, and you can’t give an inch to teams like that.”
Getting to the heart of the matter in an era of full-time training and thorough preparation, Fitzpatrick said: “It is easy sitting and saying it in meeting rooms during the week, but when you are on the pitch it is all down to you and there are no coaches out there telling you what to do.
“Saracens kept hold of the ball and frustrated us. We gave away a load of penalties because we couldn’t keep up with the speed of them, even though we had dominated most of the first half. Against a top team you can’t afford to do that, because they will take whatever chances you give them.
“After the game the chat from the coaches was basically that we can’t afford to switch off after a certain period of time, and everyone knows that.
“You have got to do it for 80 minutes and, while I know we say that every week, it is so true. You need to stay mentally switched on even when your lungs are blowing, because a single mistake can turn the game.”
Fitzpatrick is among those given a chance to improve on last week’s offering as their LV= Cup campaign kicks off tomorrow with a home date against London Irish.
The Exiles were beaten 13-11 at Kingston Park less than a fortnight ago in a dramatic climax which saw Shane Geraghty missing a match-winning penalty, the ball having twice blown off the kicking tee with the clock down to zero.
Both sides have watered down their blend from the league encounter but, with Cup progression and Premiership selection both still considerations, Fitzpatrick is not taking lightly the men from the Madejski.
“Irish have got a lot of running threats,” he said.
“Their wingers and full-backs can cause a lot of trouble with their offloading and scoring down the wide channels, and we have worked on the areas where we struggled against them in the league game.
“We know where the danger is, and we will be looking to kick in behind them, turn them round and pin them back.
“If we can put pressure on them that way we can have a positive outcome, but they have class players and we know it won’t come easily.”
A cup finalist with the Falcons two years ago, even a 34-7 thrashing by Gloucester in the final could not dent his affection for a competition which has delivered some of his fondest sporting memories.
“It is still a trophy to be won, and I played in the final a couple of years ago,” said the former Westoe and Blaydon centre.
“That was a good experience to be involved with, despite the result, and the semi-final at Harlequins that season was one of the best nights of my career. We defended unbelievably, kept hold of the ball and won it through Tane Tu’ipulotu’s try in about the eighth minute of injury time.”
Keen to use the tournament as a means to press his case for league inclusion, he added: “The LV= Cup is a great chance for the lads to get out there and show the coaches what they can do.
“For the lads who haven’t been playing much rugby, they are itching to give it a shot to try and push for the Premiership spots when we get back into the league games at the end of the month.”