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 3: Confidence Trick
Throughout the last three weeks, practices have been good, not spectacular but strong. One game into the season and it’s incredible what a win does to the confidence of a team. The slight element of edginess and annoyance at imperfections has melted in the face of one seismic event that seems to have reconfigured the team’s mentality.
A journey to the other side of the country – into bandit territory – was the precursor for the first Varsity game of the season. Televised to a national audience, with highlights that would be shown on South African Sky Sports, pressure is a marginal understatement. But clearly the team had been prepared well enough for this particular game. The glaring mistakes of the pre-season games were replaced with a more efficient effort. It was not perfect, few games are, but there were no consistent mistakes being made, no trends of errors. It was nerves and the natural mistakes that come with JUST overrunning a ball or JUST being to fast up on the blitz, a solid, if not perfect, start. The best thing about it was the business like attitude, they had watched film on the opposition team and knew where they were weak and strong, and promptly set out to nullify and expose. Game won and the vice captain complained that frankly there should have been four more tries to add to the four that were scored. This is just one small step on the road to winning the overall game that is the competition, and unsatisfied players even after a comprehensive win like this is a very good sign for any budding coaches out there.
First practice after the match and the confidence is palpable, forwards and backs are split after a light fitness session. The forwards spend 90 minutes on lineouts. NINETY MINUTES! It is professional, it is clear and it is done without complaint of the repetition. There is an understanding here that the end goal is ultimately to win, therefore no price is to high. If ninety minutes is required to forever nail down this crucial set play then so be it. All calls are practiced first without competition, then each set of forwards have to compete with each other, creating their own calls or disrupting the opposition as much as possible. There are jokes and banter, but all done within the framework of concentration, the confidence is clear and is something that can be more useful than a hatful of tries. No shouting, no edginess, no anger at minor mistakes, just a single-minded attitude to perfection.
The backs are not as relaxed, they are aware that whilst they were solid, they also should have been more clinical. But there are no recriminations, again the dedication is phenomenal, over and over they run the same plays, straight into pads, the main focus on protecting the ball in contact. Then they start to play heads up, play as you see it rugby, and the drive is, again, something to behold. Rerun after rerun, no complaining, no bitching, if they drop the ball they go again. As a team, this is not a session that can be coached this is a session that the players must arrive at organically. Only at the highest two or three levels is it possible to see this kind of practice run. The knowledge that you don’t have to work on anything but your own personal mistakes, frees up the players to train better as a unit.
And still there is the confidence coursing through their veins, the next game is at home, a difficult match against a team that is proud of their scrummaging capabilities. But a team that have not played a competitive match yet, the two or three seconds that can be caused by not being at ‘game speed’ could be the deciding factor. Our forwards have battled through a game against both a pack, who scrummaged illegally and a referee who insisted they practically be standing up straight when they engaged. There is a surety in the knowledge that if they are allowed to do what they do, how they do it, then even the opposition’s vaunted scrum can be blunted. The backs know that they simply have to retain the ball for longer periods of time, and eventually a tackle will be missed and they will be in.
The difference between two confident teams can sometimes be the individual brilliance of one player, and the good news for this team is that whilst as a unit they are getting stronger, the maverick players who spend 90% of the time working within the structure are more numerous than in most other teams. This means that moments of brilliance can be sparked from several places on the pitch, from the front row, as was the case in the season opener on Monday, down to the sub who comes on with five minutes left. Confidence can be a great thing, but confidence and the freakish ability that some of these players have will be the combination that this team could use to run the table. Long may it continue.
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.