▶ Jones’ side should feel up­beat and yet be wary of be­ing over-con­fi­dent

The National - News - - SPORT RUGBY WORLD CUP - BEN RYAN

Ihave been to watch a Rugby World Cup fi­nal. It was 1991 and it was Eng­land play­ing Aus­tralia. They lost and the game was pretty av­er­age. I was 19, and I took my dad as I had been work­ing at the Twick­en­ham ticket of­fice.

I re­mem­ber think­ing how amaz­ing this would be with play­ers like Jeremy Gus­cott, Will Car­ling and Rory Un­der­wood, but the game was very nar­row, and op­por­tu­ni­ties few and far be­tween.

Fast for­ward to 2013 and

I was coach of Eng­land at a RWC fi­nal – but for sevens. It was in the most hor­ren­dous con­di­tions. The pitch in Moscow was prac­ti­cally un­der wa­ter. The elec­tric­ity had gone out in the play­ers’ ar­eas.

We could not have any hot food or hot show­ers af­ter the semi-fi­nal, and we were smashed by DJ Forbes and his New Zealand side.

It was not ex­actly what coach­ing a team in a World Cup fi­nal should feel like. I left Eng­land shortly af­ter that, but I did re­mem­ber that day when, in Au­gust 2016, I was coach in an­other big global fi­nal, with Fiji at the Rio Olympics.

This time it was all I ex­pected and more. It would not have mat­tered if the elec­tric­ity failed or the rain came down – the team were re­laxed be­cause they all felt what I would de­scribe as “over com­pe­tent”.

It is part of a magic equa­tion which in my mind is cru­cial to suc­cess. I haven’t read it any­where, or lis­tened to some­one speak about it. This is all from what I do and see and have ex­pe­ri­enced.

But the team that wins on Satur­day – which I think will be Eng­land – will have to have mas­tered this. As a coach and as a player you want to be, and have those around you, feel­ing com­pe­tent. In a per­fect world, over com­pe­tent.

That is to say they have clear un­der­stand of what is re­quired, and are able to ex­e­cute that what­ever the con­di­tions and pres­sure.

Also they will be able to adapt if needed, and no mat­ter what hap­pens, feel that it’s okay.

I was lucky to have that with the Fi­jian boys in Rio, and I’ve been close for sure with other teams. Weirdly, the first school team I coached went on a 47game win­ning streak, and they had that, too.

How­ever, with over com­pe­tency, and the feel­ing that you are all aligned and im­mune to what­ever hap­pens, can come over-con­fi­dence.

That’s a killer. You get that, and you can stray from the process and not pay at­ten­tion to the small de­tail you were so on top of be­fore.

If you want to win the big­gest prizes in team events, then the need to have your best game last is vi­tal.

I think the best way to al­le­vi­ate pres­sure is through prepa­ra­tion. If you know your role, know what is re­quired, and un­der­stand those around you, then you will feel psy­cho­log­i­cally safe. That is only go­ing to help re­duce your anx­i­ety.

It is good to be ner­vous, but as my old univer­sity sports psy­chol­o­gist – and Eng­land’s first in the 1990s – said to me: “But­ter­flies are fine, just get them fly­ing in for­ma­tion.”

I’m sure both coaches – Ed­die Jones for Eng­land, and Rassie Eras­mus for South Africa – will be keep­ing it sim­ple for the play­ers be­tween now and kick off.

The work is done, and it is all about get­ting your team to the start line feel­ing ex­cited, and feel­ing 100 per cent. Train­ing will be short, meet­ings con­cise, and any last-minute snag­ging is­sues re­solved. Small things, like play­ers’ fly­ing fam­ily over to watch, can be an in­ter­fer­ence. The ad­min­is­tra­tive staff from both sides will be step­ping in to negate any drama in those ar­eas.

I have watched both coaches, and they look as re­laxed as they can be. Get­ting to the fi­nal is a big step for them both, and they will also have a plan they hope will al­low them to lift the tro­phy. For South

Africa, tac­ti­cally lit­tle will have changed from the semi-fi­nal. I can see them hop­ing their kick, chase and scrum will give them the up­per hand.

For Eng­land, it is the same start­ing XV that played so beau­ti­fully against New Zealand. Their plan will cen­tre on look­ing to exit quickly, but also play with some width af­ter

It is good to be ner­vous, but as my univer­sity sports psy­chol­o­gist said to me: ‘But­ter­flies are fine, just get them fly­ing in for­ma­tion.’

their bustling ball-car­ri­ers have earned the right to do so.

Fi­nally, there is the pre­match speech. I had one all planned for the Olympic fi­nal. It was good. Or, at least I thought it was. It re­ferred to the his­tory of the is­lands, the play­ers’ fam­i­lies and the legacy they would leave.

I walked into the chang­ing room, saw their re­laxed and smil­ing faces. I noted their pos­i­tive body lan­guage, and their small con­ver­sa­tions they were hav­ing with each other. I re­alised that any­thing I would say was just for me, not them. So I sim­ply said “have fun,” and walked out.

Per­haps the team that wins on Satur­day will have a coach that has pre­pared a speech, too. And, like me, they will see they just don’t need it.

Be­cause that is the best speech of them all.

Ben Ryan coached Fiji to Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, and won the Dubai Rugby Sevens four times – twice with Eng­land, and twice with Fiji


Eng­land team mem­bers – from left, Willi Heinz, Luke CowanDicki­e, Jonathan Joseph and Joe Cokanasiga take a re­laxed walk back to the team ho­tel af­ter train­ing yes­ter­day

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