For the next few months, The Inside Man will focus on the lessons learned after moving to South Africa to do a Sports Diploma at a prestigious Rugby University. However, all names and locations have been altered for legal reasons. The Inside Man will be commenting on coaching styles, difference in playing styles and specific issues within the team and season, as he dissects the incredibly professional and intense structure of South African rugby, picking apart the wider issues within.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA:
Part Two: Gotta have faith
Two weeks in and warm up matches have come and gone, both against superior opposition. One a powerhouse of the Varsity Cup, the other against one of the best, if not the best, university rugby side in the world, well if you want to beat the best…….
The first game was lacklustre to say the least, the opposition were in truth, nothing special, weaker than years gone by, but as can often be the case with the first pre-season game our team was flat. Lack of intensity and lack of effort underpinned a performance that was patchy at best. There was a lack of belief in their structures, a lack of belief in each other and therefore a huge drop off in intensity. Despite all their exhortations in team meetings that they would work for each other, there was a clear disconnect between their words and their actions.
This lack of belief and faith is not something that is often found in South African rugby. The Springboks are famous for their religious devotion, prayers have been said with opposition teams after games on the pitch more than once, the most obvious being the 2003 Samoa game, where both teams and management congregated on the pitch to share some words. It is not the religion of zealots, simply a belief that God is in everything they do and defines their successes. The same is clear at university level. The Lord’s Prayer is said before and after each practice session and absolute silence is respected as the Muslim members of the team say their prayers afterwards. After one particular Lord’s Prayer, one of the coaches started talking and was told unceremoniously where he could go by one of the wingers, who was himself furious that someone was interrupting one of his Muslim teammates prayers. There is no pigeonholing due to religion, more an acceptance that each man has his own beliefs and they should be upheld at all times.
The post-game inquisition was held the next afternoon and was not led, as some might expect, by the coaches. Backs and Forwards were in different rooms and I stayed with the forwards. The forwards coach simply walked in and said ‘you tell me what went wrong, you were out there’. What followed was utter catharsis, the vice captain and starting Number 8 got the ball rolling with a kicking that would have sent most teams into a whirlwind of recriminations and bitterness. Multiple bollockings were delivered to the hookers for their poor throwing, to the jumpers for not knowing the calls, and to the entire forward unit for their dire lack of effort. The fundamental knowledge brought to light by the coach’s simple statement was a watershed moment, and something that coaches can spend their entire lives not understanding.
As a coach you can give your team a game plan, you can tell them exactly how to win the game and where to win it. But what it comes down to are the players, they are on the pitch, they must make the decisions and do what they feel is best. For this to happen there must be utter belief at all levels of the team, the coaches need to believe the players are capable of doing the job. Since this is the case, why should the players not be the ones to watch the game videos and decide where they were wrong, because once the team gets onto the pitch the coach’s input is utterly minimal, except for a quick assessment at halftime.
The end result of this meeting? As one player put it ‘let’s stop talking and start doing!’.
The inspiration of anger in a rugby team can be a brilliant or horrible thing to watch depending on the team. Some completely lose control and start trying to kill each other and opposition teams with illegal shoulder charges and slanging matches. Others find a cold fury within themselves in the knowledge that not only have they let their coaches down but FAR more importantly, they have let their friends on the team down and have in some way dishonoured the shirt that they wear.
Both forwards and backs units were out before practice the next day, nailing down lineouts and their own skills. The lineout practice was particularly interesting as it was the first practice, where there was no excess talking, just a single-minded dedication to doing all the lineouts, and doing them right!
The result? Well the next game was like watching a different team, and not just because they were wearing their new match day jerseys. The match proved that pre-season matches are not necessarily about winning on the scoreboard. The first 40 minutes showed what this team are capable of. Yes there were problems, we were communicating but not really listening in defence, we kept going for the killer blow when we attacked as opposed to holding onto the ball and piling on pressure through phases. But the foundations were set deep and strong. Defence was savage and controlled against a team that is seen as one of the best outside of the Super 15 and Currie Cup competitions. All the problems were minor in the face of the wider point of view, which was that the team was working for each other. Structures and game plans were being utilized and for large portions of the game, working successfully.
With more bulk and experience still to come back from injury in the forwards, and the backs starting to click as an attacking unit, you can understand that whilst the coaches may not have been ecstatic, there was a contentment that the first major obstacle of the season, lack of belief, had been negotiated successfully.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd and Declan Yeats, respectively.