You can tell right from the kick off — and sometimes even from the warm up — if a team is pumped up for a match or not. In the big games, not too many teams are winning away from home these days. Which sparks the question: why do players appear to place a higher importance on playing well and winning games when they play at home rather than away?
It baffles me! At the end of the day it’s a game of rugby, and location shouldn’t matter. The team would no doubt prepare in the same fashion week in week out, with a few alterations here and there, but home advantage has a huge bearing on a game these days. It affects players’ motivations, arousal levels, and their overall attitude.
As a player you can see it in your teammates’ eyes in the dressing room before the game. Playing away, for some reason a little bit of doubt comes into their mind, it rubs off then filters though other team members making it borderline impossible to get out of your head.
It’s that unspoken whisper that some think and never say, even though it’s always there! Then the whistle goes: one thing goes wrong, then another and another, all the while confirming your thoughts before the game. Your teammates are thinking the same and not saying it … you’re finished! Even though you’re trying your heart out, and doing everything just like you’ve planned, things just don’t go your way. After the game you’re back in the dressing room asking “what happened?”
Looking at the Ireland vs Wales game over the weekend, I wonder if the game had been played in Cardiff, would the result have been the same? Ireland totally demolished Wales in every facet of the game, transforming last year’s Six Nations champs into Saturday’s chumps. They were shell-shocked and had no answer for anything Ireland threw at them.
And do you think France would’ve beaten England if the game had been played in London?
What about next week when Ireland play England at Twickenham? That will be the test of the tournament, and I can’t wait!
What makes the difference?
It comes down to your own preparation both individually and collectively. Ensuring that it’s 100% right, controlling what you can control and trusting all of your teammates to do the same.
Some players might place a higher importance on home games because they’re worried about perception and their reputation. Others, I’m sure, love to hear the crowd chanting their name and play better in the hope of hearing it. Some may want the extra attention they get when out having a few drinks in their hometown after a win. I don’t know.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if everyone fed off a hostile booing crowd and became even more motivated to win proving them all wrong? Instead, some go completely into their shell like kids at a school dance!
The great caldrons of rugby, such as “The House Of Pain” in Dunedin New Zealand, become fortresses where no challenging team are given a chance. It’s cold, it’s wet, everyone’s against you in the crowd. It’s loud and intimidating. But there are only 15 men on the other side, so why is it so hard to win in these places?
Look at the French. They are notorious for being lions at home and extremely weakened playing away. Surely their mental toughness isn’t affected so badly when crossing into another country? Every time they pick up their passports they must have an allergic reaction of some sort.
With all this said, I ask you this: do the All Blacks care whey they play? Does their performance dramatically change when they play away as compared to home? The answer is No and No! New Zealand is the best team on the planet, and it’s for a reason. They focus on what they can control and stick to it like bees to honey.
They don’t worry about where or who they’re playing because they know their preparation will get them through and they are confident that everyone in the team is on the exact same page. They know each other extremely well, they trust one another and always believe that every player, from 1 to 22, will do their job, and give all they can to win!
Is it the fact that they maintain a collective psychology so superior to other teams, or is it the black jersey and all the history that comes with it?
Rugby is a simple game, and mentality plays such a huge part. Often, however, it is over complicated with too much focus placed on things that are out of a player’s control. The game of rugby is still played within the same parameters with the same rules wherever it is played. And yet, for some unknown reason, the team playing at home has a much higher chance of winning than the away team.
What are the reasons for the change in motivation? I’d like to know your thoughts!
Photograph: Human Race Exhibition Research.