The Inside Man reports discreetly after moving to South Africa to do a Sports Diploma at a prestigious Rugby University. 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 8: The True Leveller
As coaches, we can control virtually everything that happens on a rugby field. Whilst we cannot control how well our team plays, we can dictate the structure, fitness and intensity at which our teams play. We can tell our teams how to beat the opposition. We can (up to a point) play and control the referee. But there is one absolute variable that is beyond even the mandate of the world’s best coaches. The Weather.
Rain or Shine, Snow or Heat, not one of these things gives a proverbial about the ranting and raving of coaches. It will do what it damn well pleases, thank you and good night! And the game last night was all sorts of uncontrollable on the precipitation front. Driving rain and howling gales, the leveller to end all levellers, standing water and puddles. As close to an outdoor baths as it was possible to be, except nobody brought the soap.
All the meticulously planned strategies go out of the window and the game is reduced to its basest elements. And for the first time, last night I realized what an utter godsend that can be. No over-complicating, no 50/50 passes. In attack you keep the ball and wait for them to (literally) slip up, if in doubt you put boot to ball and make them catch the ball (hard enough in the kind of weather I have in mind) and then attempt to run it our of their half. Ball in hand, pull maybe one step then hit the gas, because more than that and you will get zero traction and speed. In defence, stay tight to the ruck and hit them as hard as you can. This sounds stupid but if you can bring the same intensity in defence in the rain as you do in the shine then the odds of opposition mistakes are far greater. Ultimately bide your time, they will make mistakes and make sure your team is there to capitalize. I spoke in one of the first instalments of the importance of individual game breakers. This is such a time where these players rise. Our dominant second row, unstoppable in the lineout, our beautifully instinctive centre, blitzing and standing in the middle of the opposition line when the ball was thrown straight at him by the opposition fly half. Cue a casual stroll over the try line.
These players stand up and are counted, in good weather they are better than their colleagues, but this can be obscured because in good weather it becomes more of a team performance. But in poor conditions, they are given licence to do it their way, their fundamentals are so sound and so absolutely crucial because of the weather that they can often prove to be the game winners. In the true rainstorm even the most basic of moves, such as a dummy and go become slow motion actions, and yet they can be the most useful, again because the opposition may just slip. Make them make mistakes!
And so to our game, well the forwards were spectacular in their hunger to force errors, and in their set piece. The backs ran hard and kept it simple, one or two steps at most, but often backing their own pace and power. Above all the decision-making was so brilliant. After a slip from the first penalty kick, touch finders from penalties became the norm, with a hugely dominant forward pack who mauled the opposition at will, this became a decisive factor. In abominable weather, level headed, cold and calculated thinking can be the 1% that hauls a team over the line. And that is where we beat them, we out thought them and we did the basics better in conditions that demanded simplicity of execution. We still require some teams to do us a few favours, but there is still a chance of making the final. Do that and this victory roll should march us to the title. To come from where we were a few short weeks ago will be the only inspiration needed. The idea of starting at the bottom and the hatred of the idea of returning there should.
That is it for now. Thank you for reading and feel free to comment. If you can, look for and “Like” our FacebookRugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann Declan Yeats and Karen Ritter, respectively.