Articles

The quest for confidence Posted almost 2 years ago

Default

Photo: Telegraph UK

The quest for confidence

As the sport’s elite prepare for the latest Rugby World Cup, mini and junior players throughout the UK are embarking on a formidable challenge of their own – the transition from tag to contact rugby.

Clubs up and down the country, including my own in Farnham, have welcomed back wave after wave of youngsters including some particularly keen Under 9s excited by the prospect of taking a crucial step towards playing the game they see on TV.

With new boots, kit and a compulsory gum shield, they arrive perhaps a little daunted by the limited physical demands of the latest version of the game they will have to play instead of the playground-friendly pastime they have enjoyed to this point.

They will be required to tackle opponents for the first time but importantly there is still no contest for the ball at the tackle, no rucks, mauls, lineouts or scrums.

But any anxiety is trumped by a hunger to learn, a desire to improve as players – and emulate the likes of Chris Robshaw, Richie McCaw and their other hard-hitting heroes.

They devour instruction from their coaches and do their best to ‘get close’, ‘get low’ and ‘squeeze’ and try to commit phrases such as ‘feet to feet’, ‘cheek to cheek’ and ‘ring of steel’ to memory.

Mistakes are made, heads end up in dangerous places and limbs lands intertwined but players bounce back up onto their feet with smiles on their faces, eager to try again and again.

But the next generation of stars are not the only ones seeking knowledge, skill and ultimately confidence to perform at the highest possible level.

They have company in the form of some of the sport’s elite players.

We have previously addressed on these pages how coaches have harvested ideas from other sports with England boss Stuart Lancaster among those who has drawn on methods used in rival codes such rugby league and Aussie Rules – and even cycling.

But modern professional players have an ability to think for themselves and they are just as keen to discover and leverage any technique or approach that could give them a priceless edge.

Such voracity came to light in the wake of England’s victory over Ireland in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up clash last weekend.

England’s morale boosting win was punctuated by several examples of superb aerial play with full-back Mike Brown and wing Anthony Watson both bringing the Twickenham crowd to its feet with some sensational skills.

Just a few short months after being schooled by the Irish in the same aspect of the game during their latest Six Nations meeting in Dublin, England showed the results of some valuable homework.

Brown’s extra curricular activity included reviewing footage of Israel Folau, the Australian international who sets the bar when it comes to aerial combat.

“Folau sets the standard,” admitted Brown following his side’s 21-13 success.

Such public praise for a rival – and an acknowledgement of their superiority – is rare in the verbal exchanges that precede a high-profile clash and England’s World Cup meeting with Australia later this month certainly falls into that category.

But it is certainly understandable on this occasion.

Folau’s impressive athleticism and superb all round skill set caught the eye during earlier stints in rugby league and Aussie Rules but he has quite literally soared to unprecedented heights since his switch to rugby union.

With encouragement from Lancaster, Brown has studied Folau’s ability to ‘make the ball his own’ but his thirst for knowledge did not stop there.

All the leading full-backs in the sport have come under Brown’s gaze and every scenario has been replicated in training in a quest for a competitive edge.

“The coaches leave no stone unturned,” Brown told The Daily Telegraph. “You have to build that confidence within yourself that you can do it in the Test arena.”

Watson’s exploits were just as impressive as he climbed above Irish rival Simon Zebo to lay claim to a pin-point cross-field kick from England fly-half George Ford before dotting down for a try.

It was just the latest example of an increasing use of such a focus-switching tactic by those sides blessed with the precision offered by the likes of Ford and the acrobatic ability of athletes such as Watson.

The latter’s leap owed great deal to his admiration of another game breaker and standard bearer – NFL star Odell Beckham Jnr.

The New York Giants’ wide receiver made his name with some outstanding and often jaw-dropping exploits during his rookie year last season that included a simply sensational one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys.

Watson was clearly one of those hypnotised by Beckham Jnr’s ability to pluck a ball out of mid-air at full pace with the 21-year-old Watson reportedly fond of being called ‘Odell’ in training.

It appears the elite game and its grassroots counterpart share not only a thirst for knowledge but a fondness for hero worship.

The Rugby site is the only online coaching resource to offer a truly global perspective, subscribe for 12 months – now at a lower price point.

Enter your email address to continue reading

We frequently post interesting articles and comment from our world class content providers so please provide us with your email address and we will notify you when new articles are available.

We'll also get in touch with various news and updates that we think will interest you. We promise to not spam, sell, or otherwise abuse your address (you can unsubscribe at any time).

Comments

comments powered by Disqus

Graham Jenkins is a freelance sports journalist who has been reporting around the rugby globe for over 20 years. A former editor of the leading rugby union website Scrum.com, he is a veteran of five World Cups and cites England’s 2003 triumph as the most memorable moment of his professional career - closely followed by a night out with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal.

Comments
Topic News & Opinions
Applicable to Coaches   Players   Others   Supporters and fans  

Related articles

Why Warren Gatland will not be the next All Blacks coach

You could be forgiven for thinking there was no winner in the British & Irish Lions’ recent showdown with New Zealand given that the enthralling Test series was drawn. However surprisingly this was not the case as Graham Jenkins explains one person emerged with their reputation greatly enhanced.

No winner but World Rugby still loses

The British & Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand came to an enthralling and painfully frustrating conclusion at Eden Park on Saturday night. The occasion may have failed to provide a winner but there was certainly a loser. Leading writer Graham Jenkins explores the sport’s shortcomings that can no longer be ignored by World Rugby.

Sarries focused on the journey - not the destination

Crowned Kings of Europe once again last month with a hard-fought 28-17 victory over French rivals Clermont Auvergne, Sarries then saw their hopes of a ‘double double’ dashed by Exeter Chiefs in an epic Premiership semi-final defeat just a week later. Leading writer Graham Jenkins looks at what’s behind Saracens ongoing success.

Lions racing against time to beat the All Blacks

As daunting the prospect of facing the world’s best side on their own patch, the most formidable challenge facing the British & Irish Lions this summer is arguably not the All Blacks but the precious little time they have to ready themselves for an eagerly-awaited Test series. Leading writer Graham Jenkins looks at what Warren Gatland is doing to address the situation.

Is the sport really putting players first?

World Rugby and the rugby union’s key stakeholders announced the latest long-term calendar for the game with great fanfare last month highlighting the ‘harmony’ it had brought to the sport.

Leading writer Graham Jenkins looks at claims it appears to have promoted disharmony with many concerned that the international schedule and the changes it has subsequently triggered actually jeopardise player welfare.