RATHBONE: Experience means everything in Super Rugby finals
The Reds got up over the Brumbies, but can they make the 2012 Super Rugby finals? (AAP Image/Alan Porritt)
There is something different about playing in finals. The toughest parts of the game get tougher, the intensity of every contest soars, and the margin for error narrows.
Experience counts for a lot in finals football.
I remember running out onto a wet and howling Hamilton field to face the Chiefs. The game would decide if the Brumbies hosted a semi-final.
For those who’ve not experienced a rugby match at Waikato’s home of rugby, I can assure you that it is unique in world rugby.
It’s a small stadium by modern standards, but it’s built ominously close to the field. The wind screams over the low stands and cuts into you from the second you hit the field.
And the noise, oh the noise!
It is quite literally deafening.
Cowbells and chainsaws (yes, people in the crowd with cowbells and chainsaws) come together to produce a bizarre reverberation that seems to assault the senses from every angle.
Standing not two meters from teammates, I had no idea what was being said.
The younger, less experienced members of the team seemed all to have the ‘deer in the headlights’ look blanked across their faces.
Fortunately, we were surrounded by a core of experienced players, many of them 1999 World Cup winners.
They knew what to say, and more importantly, they knew what to do. The rest of us took our cues from them and we managed to turn the match in our favour.
As we head into the finals in 2012, experience will again be key. No team or player performs well under pressure. Instead, the best teams are able to remove the pressure from the situation in order to perform.
Loving the challenge is key. Being motivated rather than daunted by the occasion is vital, too.
Now that my team is out of the finals, I’ll be joining the rest of the Aussie supporters in getting behind the Reds in a big way.
They have the ability to win the competition.
Crucially, they have the right mix of experience and talent and they are peaking at just the right time.
Something tells me they could be heading to Waikato to face some chainsaws next week.
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.