RATHBONE: Game day of a Wallaby: how we prepare
Wallaby Kurtley Beale speaks with teammate James O'Connor and coach Robbie Deans.
As I sit in bed during this wet and dreary Saturday morning my mind is cast back to all game days I’ve experienced. When I was in high school the first team games would typically start around 11am.
I suspect this was to ensure that fathers had ample time to drive into Durban and catch the Natal Sharks matches.
As I moved up through the ranks matches seemed to start later until the Test and Super rugby kick-offs of 7:40pm became the norm.
Such late starts meant that match day posed an interesting challenge. There is a lot of waiting around trying to occupy ones time while keeping from burning any valuable energy.
At Wallaby level the team would typically assemble in the hotel foyer before taking a group stroll to a nearby park or school field. On arrival forwards and backs would make two teams and proceed to engage in passing games, mindless banter and stretches.
After a half hour or so we would amble back to the hotel and either head back to our rooms or mull around coffee shops and restaurants.
I found I preferred to be on my own and read on match day. A good book was a welcome distraction for a mind that would otherwise constantly drift onto the upcoming challenge.
Other players preferred to hang out in groups, playing video games, watching movies or strolling around shopping centres.
As players become more experienced game day routines are refined until they become something of weekly ‘groundhog day’. The same waking hours, morning activities, meals, massages and music all pieced together leading up to the day’s main event.
Closer to the match the teams assemble for a meal, this is followed by meetings where coach and captain highlight important features of game plans and mindsets.
Once on the team bus there is an almost tangible tension that builds, as though the collective focus of the group narrows. Conversations become shorter, headphones are wrapped around heads and thousand yard stares are commonplace.
Once at the stadium players will often walk around the touchlines watching curtain raises and soaking up the atmosphere. Players not strapped at the hotel will have it done in the sheds; getting changed highlights some of the superstitious idiosyncrasies that exist in teams. It’s not uncommon to see lucky underpants and a strict order of which items go on first and last.
The referee and touch judges will do a sweep of the change rooms to inspect the studs on boots, the ref will often have a brief chat to the front row forwards to reiterate his interpretations and scrum focus areas.
This is usually the last time refs and front row forwards can be caught smiling at one another.
Warm ups take around 20 minutes and have players going through most of the activities involved in a match, there’s some tackle-shield work, a few plays, ruck defence and catch/pass drills.
It’s important that the warm up has enough intensity to ensure that the match does not come as a shock.
Back in the change room the team will come together for a final captains address, it’s then out onto the field and from the first whistle the players flick onto autopilot for 80min.
The match itself always seems to flash by faster than 80 minutes would suggest. It really is a blur of action.
After the match there is a recovery session making sure the group is able turn around and do it all again in a week’s time.
Former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone has returned to Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies, following an injury-forced retirement from all forms in 2009. He writes guest columns for The Roar, and will blog his journey back to professional rugby in 2013.
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