As he has done the past few weeks, The Inside Man will continue to focus on the lessons he has 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 has been 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 7: What a difference a win makes
A week in which we played two games within four days and finally the streak is broken! The first? Another home loss, which left us staring down the barrel of a dead rubber season and another game where we could not psychologically get over the line. Solid in the first half, and winning, we were inspired for the first 25 minutes of the second half, and then like Icarus our confidence got the better of us and we flew too close to the sun. We believed our own press for the last 15 minutes and set about conceding penalty after penalty in our own 22 metre area, simply because we thought we could stop them at our line. Unfortunately the referee had other ideas. Two yellow cards torpedoed our truly exceptional chances of winning. Confidence is a fickle beast. Too little and you lose, too much and you become lackadaisical and you lose!
The loss took an awful lot of our season out of our hands, not only did we need to win our remaining three games, but we need results to go our way in some others. And so to the second of our double-header week. An away game against a team we should have smashed in the first round of matches. A shocking start saw us down by a sizeable margin in the first half hour, and yet there comes a time when a team simply says that enough is enough, it does not need a coach to say it, it is a collective understanding achieved through the willpower of each individual that actually ‘hey, I am NOT losing this game!’ Two crashing tries put us back in the game and more importantly where the spark that lit the touch paper. And then as with all things just as the belief is seeping back in, an injury. Our fly half out for the season. Cue the wondrous miracle, a brand new fly half, fresh out of the box and untested in the 10 jersey this season, orchestrated a massive win, making breaks, challenging defenders and above all else setting up tries. Final score? A win by one point.
Seasons can be defined by games like these, driving rain, ugly and scrappy and yet your team still comes out on top. There is a private understanding by all those involved that that game was something personal, that was their Everest and they did it together and they never stopped. Now of course the question is where do we go from here? As players the first priority is just to win our last two games with bonus points, then hopefully somebody above us will slip up. We only need to finish top two so if you know any prayers, now is the time!
And for a coach? What next? There are better individual players to come back into the side, the starting team was by no means the first, and yet do you change a winning side? Do you change a side that quite literally dragged each other through the driving rain and the mud and over the try line? Do you break that bond that was forged in the fires of adversity? It is a difficult question to answer and one of the most difficult as a coach. If you don’t replace your starting XV then you have a bench with massive firepower. Alternatively there is an argument that it is a squad mentality, one man coming in to the starting team has something to prove to his brothers on the team, that he should have been there with them in their hour of need, and so will play that much harder.
More often than not teams can be at their best when their backs are against the wall, it’s the cornered and wounded animal theory, we have faced down the first challenge, but now we have to do it again, and again and then hopefully one last time. But the idea of leaving the competition with nothing can be the best motivator, desperation can inspire men on the rugby pitch.
Our season hangs by a thread, and yet the fire is growing in this group, catch you all next week.
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