Rassie Erasmus: “Who is this water carrier and can I sign him up on a three-year deal?”
We can’t quite put our finger on it. One day we are at the top of our game, performing at our best and said to be in form.
The next we uncharacteristically miss a couple of tackles, drop a few balls – then a few more – and are suddenly out of form.
Form is a funny thing. It has the ability to kickstart a rugby career, then ultimately be the reason that it ends.
During the career of a professional player there are highs and lows, peaks and troughs we encounter along the way. It’s impossible to be 100 per cent perfect all the time.
Even the greatest players have experienced days, even months, when their performances have gone from the sublime to the horrendous. When you find yourself out of form in a game like rugby it takes time and patience to find it again. Sometimes the harder you try, the deeper you sink.
It’s because there are so many different facets in a game of rugby that contribute to your individual performance.
We don’t play a sport where one moment of magic can spark you from a slump. We can’t fire that wonder strike from outside the box or produce that perfect triple somersault with pike to win gold. Our performances are measured over a whole season.
You may be stranded on the wing and not touch the ball for half the game, relying on the performance of others to provide the platform for you to unleash your best.
Add to this the fact you have three games away from home during the wet days of winter and that the bounce of the ball is suddenly not going your way.
It’s now the time to be patient, accept the coach’s reasons for not selecting you and take a step back.
We have all heard the phrase ‘play yourself into form’, and this has a certain truth to it. The more you play, the greater confidence you build.
This is relevant especially when returning from a long-term injury, as getting back on the field is the priority in regaining your fitness and skill.
On the other hand, form can mean nothing at all. How many times have we seen the underdog come out and prove the doubters wrong, producing the performances and ripping up the form guide in the process.
Anyone have the Force sitting in fourth spot on the ladder after nine rounds of Super Rugby? I didn’t think so.
So is form that important? And what are the contributing factors that lead to a lack of form or to experiencing a purple patch?
I call them the ‘three Ms’. Each plays a role on the effect that form has on the individual player as well as the collective team environment.
It’s all mental
You don’t become a bad player overnight. There’s a reason why you are where you are and have achieved what you’ve achieved.
When one bad game leads to another, then another, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when there are potential replacements breathing down your neck.
Within a team environment, it’s amazing what stringing a few wins on the bounce does to the morale of the group, creating a ‘winning mentality’.
It’s what’s occurring over in the west right now. Before the Super Rugby season began, many had the Force battling it out with the Rebels for the Australian wooden spoon.
They now sit proudly in one of the wildcard spots on the table, above the Waratahs after their win on the weekend. They have strung together five wins in a row for the first time in their history.
After their win, winger Nick Cummins, a.k.a The Honey Badger, a player very much in form at the moment, mentioned the strong belief and team spirit that is present in the squad this season.
This collective mental strength has contributed to them winning matches that in previous years would have slipped away from them.
As the wins start to build up, so too do the crowd numbers. The Fox Sports cameras are suddenly at your training ground every second week. People are now expecting you to win.
The 2009 NRL season saw the Parramatta Eels go on an outrageous run of form to make the grand final, led by a very in-form Jarryd Hayne.
After showing no signs of making the playoffs in the first half of the season, the Eels produced the snowball effect. The environment it creates enables you to just keep on going.
As quickly as form comes, it can leave. The Super Rugby season is now played over seven months, with international breaks in between.
It’s about peaking at the right time. It’s a challenge for teams like the Force, who haven’t found themselves in such a strong position before, to maintain the performances that have served them so well.
For teams not travelling as well, the Rugby Championship break is welcomed as a way to kickstart the second half of their season.
It’s also a time to give players a rest, or to enter an international set-up and return fresh, upbeat and positive.
The ARU have just announced the dates for the spring tour to Europe. Many of the players who will feature in that squad, as well as the squad for the forthcoming Rugby Championship, will be those who’ve been in form this season.
It will be interesting to see how many Force players make the squad, and whether the more experienced players who are slightly out of form are still considered due to past performances.
In my opinion you need a bit of both. Teams should be selected on form, absolutely.
But in a tournament such as the Rugby Championship and in particular a World Cup, when one game can mean elimination and the end of the chance to lift the trophy, you also need proven experience. Everybody has a role.