You look your team-mates in the eye, and you al­ready know if you have won

Key to han­dling the pres­sure is to pre­tend that every­thing is nor­mal. In 2003 we ba­si­cally took Twick­en­ham with us

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 -

In the midst of a World Cup fi­nal, there is a si­lence that stays with you. The emo­tional am­pli­fier has been turned up to the max for the last 10 weeks and at times it is as if your heart will jump out of your chest. You fear fail­ure, you dread com­ing up short, you fret over mis­takes. But there is also hope. Stay alive, keep in the game. All it takes is a point.

Keep close, stay to­gether. Then, some­how, you and your team are stand­ing on the big­gest stage of world rugby. You are 80 min­utes away from the prize, the golden cup.

Sud­denly, just as quickly as it built, the pres­sure drops away. The referee’s whis­tle is shrill. The crowd moves in slow mo­tion. You see the kick-off sail into the air and it is quiet around you. There is a still­ness and peace that is fleet­ing and all the more beau­ti­ful for it. This is the mo­ment you were hop­ing for, dream­ing of, liv­ing and reliving in your mind for days, months and years. It has ar­rived.

When the ball is caught, the bub­ble bursts and you are swamped in a wall of sound and emo­tion. It washes over you and is al­most too much to take in so sud­denly. You must now re­act and deal with what un­folds. Let emo­tions over­come you and, just as Ar­gentina found out, you will come un­done. That is why man­age­ment teams try to do as much as they can to make the ex­cep­tional as mun­dane and ev­ery­day as pos­si­ble.

Play­ers will try to pre­tend that every­thing is the same as a nor­mal game.

In 2003, England’s kit man, Dave Ten­nyson, took as much of the Twick­en­ham chang­ing room on the road with him as pos­si­ble. No mat­ter where we got changed, our usual plaques were in place, the locker room al­most as it was at home. We knew it was a de­cep­tion but it did not mat­ter. It brought us nor­mal­ity.

To­day’s pro­fes­sion­als are used to be­ing on the road, but the fi­nal­ists are try­ing to win a World Cup about as far away from their homes as pos­si­ble. They will take com­fort from their match day rou­tines. Wake up, eat, walk through moves, line-outs, a team run, back for a proper break­fast. Then some down­time. Find re­lax­ation where you can.

Ev­ery­one has their thing, quiet walks, a game of pool, a snooze, some stretch­ing. Cher­ish it and fol­low it. Never de­vi­ate from what makes you happy and what makes you tick as a team. This is what will bind you when the roar of a game comes.

New Zealand are the masters of rou­tine, of un­der­stand­ing what it means to be a team. They draw on their cul­ture and their na­tional pride in their shirt. They are con­nected in ev­ery sense. Their cap­tain and man­age­ment team have been in­stru­men­tal in re­build­ing a rugby brand that was dented and un­der­per­form­ing. They have pol­ished it into the most suc­cess­ful team the world has ever seen. All of the squad know what is ex­pected. They are hum­ble. They know the his­tory they carry on their shoul­ders and in their hearts.

The aim of the All Black game plan is to get rid of chance. In­stead they want to rely on the con­sis­tent ap­pli­ca­tion of pres­sure and er­ror-free di­rect rugby. This does not mean they are bor­ing, rather that they are re­lent­less in what they do. Their skills al­low them to adapt and de­liver no mat­ter what is thrown up. They have evolved and to­day’s team seem more prag­matic than be­fore. When Dan Carter dropped the goal against South Africa, it was a key mo­ment and it shocked a lit­tle. This was a team that we ex­pect to have plenty of gears to go through when­ever they need to get over a stum­bling block. And yet here they were, nick­ing three-point­ers? It was al­most as if they were cheat­ing. In fact they were show­ing that they had learnt from the near miss of 2007 and were liv­ing out their team nar­ra­tive; the All Blacks win no mat­ter what.

Ev­ery team re­quire a nar­ra­tive if they are to be suc­cess­ful. You have to buy into the cul­ture, the spirit, the goals, the peo­ple around you.

The All Blacks’ destiny would seem to most peo­ple to have been writ­ten for a while; de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons pro­tect their ti­tle and be­come the first coun­try to win two in a row. They know the sto­ry­line.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Aus­tralians have a habit of tear­ing up the script. Driven to­gether by their new coach, Michael Cheika, and his blunt talk­ing, Aus­tralia look ready to write their own page in his­tory. He does not care what day of the week it is, nor what the weather is like. You turn up and you per­form. You play rugby, and you win. Have a smile if needs be and do not take your­self too se­ri­ously; why worry about the chang­ing room you pick, it does not mat­ter, we are here to do a job.

And they have done it fan­tas­ti­cally well. Four weeks, four wins in a row at Twick­en­ham. The fortress that England were sup­posed to have built has be­come the stomp­ing ground of a Wal­la­bies team grow­ing in con­fi­dence and abil­ity. Their his­tory may be very dif­fer­ent to that of the All Blacks but it is no less pow­er­ful; short-term re­cov­ery ver­sus longterm dom­i­nance, re­demp­tion sto­ries on both sides. For the Aus­tralians, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell. Men who seemed to be out­side the squad, on the other side of the world in France. Then the change in lead­er­ship, the prag­ma­tism and the call up. Two men who have the chance to de­liver a third World Cup to their coun­try.

Fac­ing them is Carter, the best player to have missed out on a World Cup fi­nal. His chance to say good­bye to the All Blacks (he is head­ing to France and Rac­ing 92 on the fi­nal whis­tle) at the top of his game, one fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion that he was as good as we thought.

All com­pelling sto­ries, all act­ing as the glue that binds the team, one man to an­other be­cause you need to care about your team­mates if you are to win.

You can­not like them all, you are lucky if Glory day: Will Green­wood with Mike Tin­dall and the World Cup af­ter the epic 2003 fi­nal you do. But you need to care about them. At some point this af­ter­noon, you will need to tell your­self to get up and drive, chase for the cor­ner, put the tackle in when you can hardly go an­other yard. You will need to push your­self to break­ing. It is in th­ese mo­ments when the quiet de­scends upon you again. You hear your breath, you hear your heart, noth­ing else. You ask your­self a ques­tion: are you ready to give up?

The an­swer comes when you look around you, when you catch the eye of an­other team-mate. In that mo­ment, you will know whether you will win or lose the match. To­day will be no dif­fer­ent.

At some point you must push your­self to break­ing. You ask your­self the ques­tion: Am I ready to give up?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.