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The simple fix that could've spared Reds, Tahs GP heartbreak and could prevent it from happening again

1st April, 2024
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1st April, 2024
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The T-CUP principle is one that is used throughout sport psychology; and in rugby circles really came to the fore in 2003, with Clive Woodward’s World Cup-winning England team, that clinched the title in extra-time with that drop goal.

T-CUP: Thinking Calmly Under Pressure

The idea is simple and requires little explanation, but its application can vary from sport to sport. The All Blacks have various, individual methods to achieve this and remain grounded, switching from red-heads to blue-heads, etc – but the principle remains the same.

Australian rugby fans have seen a plethora of examples over the years, and just this season have witnessed clutch moments in Super Rugby Pacific games slip through the grasp like that fourth grade winger who should never be passed to….

Tane Edmed of the Waratahs. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The Tahs and Reds have both lost in golden point scenarios to the Drua and Hurricanes respectively; whilst the New South Welshmen also came up just short against two Kiwi sides (Blues and Highlanders) in games that they should be winning if they are to have stronger hopes of being competitive in finals footy.

Whilst ruminating over these near-misses, it sparked a former thought that I had: that Australian rugby players simply do not play enough high-level rugby. Presuming, in a best-case scenario that a player played for the Brumbies in 2023 and remained uninjured and free from suspension, then they would have played just 16 top-level games prior to being at the whim of international selection.

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

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Compare that with a player in the Gallagher Premiership, United Rugby Championship or Top 14; who along with having a potential 20, 21 and 26 domestic games also then have Inter-Continental competitions to participate in, adding a minimum of four games.

Whilst over a season this difference can be reasoned away, the compounding effect of this sees scenarios where players like Marcus Smith (25 years old) has played 151 games for Harlequins and Noah Lolesio (24 years old) just 63 for the Brumbies and Toulon combined.

So that’s the problem, what is the solution? Sabbaticals.

Reds look dejected after the loss during the round two Super Rugby Pacific match between Hurricanes and Queensland Reds. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Not sojourns over to Japan to top up the pension pot or regular run-outs in the Shute Shield or Hospital Cup, but actual temporary moves to the European-based leagues that can offer something significantly different to southern-hemisphere tournaments. Send the tight five to France, to upskill their set-piece game, the inside backs to England to learn the tactical kicking approaches utilised by the likes of George Ford and Owen Farrell. Outside backs, take your pick, just go somewhere where the pressure is greater, where the level of competition is higher.

The move as a medical joker to Toulon has done Noah Lolesio the world of good, he is taking the ball closer to the line, backing himself more and appears more comfortable with dictating to teammates where they should be and when.

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Imagine if some of the props went over to Toulouse, La Rochelle or Bordeaux and upped their scrummaging game, honed their techniques and learned what it takes to compete with some of the biggest behemoths the rugby world has seen.

The moves could not only benefit individual players, their development and their careers; but also ailing Rugby Australia who could effectively reduce some of the outgoings for two-four months of the year, letting others pick up the tab for wages, physio, strength and conditioning, etc. Yes, it could lead to some players leaving Australian shores early, but that is happening already; and the pros vastly outweigh the cons on the grand scale.

You could also see revolutionary rugby union models that start to try and mirror the footballing world and have clubs in a wider network. The Waratahs partner up with Montpellier and Suntory Sungoliath to provide players at different points of their careers opportunities to extend themselves, whilst also remaining in touch with “home” with a view to return a better, more complete player.

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The NRC isn’t coming back and the tier between club rugby and Super Rugby remains a void, so maybe, just maybe, Rugby Australia and its teams need to start thinking differently. They need to start T-CUP both on the pitch and in the boardroom.

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