All but one of the quarter finals pitted traditional rivals against each other. The weekend started with the battles from the Northern Hemisphere with Ireland facing Wales and England battling France. The second day of games focused on the Southern Hemisphere where the host country’s All Blacks squared off against Argentina and South Africa clashed with Australia. As with any rivalries, the outcome is a coin flip and the matches are often classics.
Ireland and Wales kicked off the weekend. Ireland qualified as the top nation in Pool C by upsetting Australia in pool play. However, many experts pegged them as underdogs to Wales who had produced wonderful form during the pool stages and were unlucky not to be unbeaten. The match was fiercely contested with no quarter given. Wales looked the more enterprising team, but Ireland’s veterans were calmly steering their side toward victory. It wasn’t until Mike Phillips, the Welsh halfback, spotted some lazy defense on the blindside that Wales took control the match. The opportunism epitomizes the patience that Wales plays with; they do the basics well and look to be one of the fittest teams in the RWC. The earned a victory and a semi-final berth.
The second match kicked off with questions about France’s ability to play after losing to Tonga in their last pool match. England were favorites but meet “that” France team. This is the French side that turns up for the RWC knockout stages. In 1999 and 2007, the All Blacks caught “that” French team and this time it was the English. England tried to play an expansive game and gave the French too many opportunities. This sets up a thrilling semi-final between two highly skilled teams, but the question will remain, “Which France will arrive at the ground?”
The second day of matches started with the South Africa and the Wallabies. Some had picked this game to be the final of the RWC and the match had all the intensity of a final. These two teams battered each other with or without the ball. There was not dirty play, just great ball running and tackling.With an intimate knowledge of each other, the Boks and the Wallabies knew what to expect and both sides were prepared. The Boks looked the better side on the day, but a late lineout penalty was awarded to Australia and James O’Connor calmly slotted the points for the win.
The last quarter final was between an over matched Argentina and New Zealand. Argentina planned to use spoiling tactics to slow the New Zealand attack and were successful. The Pumas even took an early lead, but the All Blacks overcame the loss of another first five-eighth, Colin Slade, to convincingly beat the Pumas. This set up a trans-Tasman showdown of epic proportions.
The interesting thing to note about these quarterfinals is that three of the four teams in the semis were runners’ up in their pools. This shows how close the teams are at the top of the pile and should be a shot across the bar for all players to bring their best for this opportunity at World Cup glory.
Like many rugby players, I enjoy getting into the gym, running around at training, and mixing it up during a game. However, one of the critical aspects I often forgot about is my recovery. I would rather talk or get home to see Brynn and Julie or see the trainer. These are valuable things but they don’t help me recover. So for the next month I’m going to concentrate on my recovery in three ways: stretch, re-fuel and review.
Stretch: It sounds pretty simple, but I just don’t do it. 30-60 seconds for each stretch and I prefer to work my way from the ground up. Starting with calves and achilles, moving to a couple of different hamstring and glute stretches, then onto quads, groins and hip flexors before finishing with chest, back, shoulders and neck. I also want to foam roll before and after training at the gym ( at the pitch it might be a little hard). I figure this is simple and quick enough that I can get it done in 10 minutes and it will help my performance.
Re-fuel: I prefer to re-fuel by eating actual food. My goal is to eat a small meal within 60 minutes of training. I have had the best results by eating within 30 minutes of training, but I feel that this would be an ambitious goal as I live 20 minutes from the gym and 10 minutes from training. This will give me some time to get home, prep something and eat. If I know I am going to work or doing something else, I am going to use protein shakes. I know that this is not really paleo, but I need to give my body the resources it needs to regenerate and this is a sacrifice that I am willing to make.
Review: This is the one that I think will catch most people by surprise. I think that reviewing what you did in training can help you move on to your next job. Reviewing what you have done and the impact that this has on future plans can lead to more time being spent on a weakness or need and can build confidence by seeing what I have done well. This helps my mental edge and helps me to de-stress and plan for the future.
These are my plans. What are your plans to help prepare to recover in the future?
Every time I step out onto the pitch I like to be prepared. During the Rugby season, I draw on previous experiences to help prepare mentally for the game. The move to Denver has changed this, I have no prior experiences and it has been hard to be mentally prepared for the games. My wife, Julie, mentioned that I looked jittery at the start of last night’s game and I was. So this is the plan that I have come up with.
The first step is to draw on my previous personal experiences. Instead of focusing on how the opposition play, I am going to focus on the things that I do well. For me, that is scrummaging, tackling, clearing out/rucking and communicating effectively. I am going to use these experiences to develop a series of mental images that will help build my self-confidence in my ability to execute against any opposition. This will help me face the unknown by relying on my strengths to overcome.
The second step to set goals based on my teams game plan. This will allow to work within our pattern and do the basics well. If I make a contribution to my teams game plan then I am doing my part to achieve our goals. With my coaches knowing the opposition, I can place confidence that what I am doing will help my team achieve their desired result. An example was last night that I was going work to support the the ball runner coming flowing around on a forward hitup during the second phase 80% of the time. I knew that if I did that it would help release our backs and once again it was something that I could control and contribute to.
The third step is to manage my arousal levels. Before a game, I can get too pumped up or be a in a lull. Yesterday, I was buzzing and the week before I was in a lull. I did a good job getting out of my lull by listening to music and talking with teammates. However, I yesterday I didn’t do a good job of calming my nerves. I forgot to do breathing exercises and instead just bounced around and lost focus. My favorite breathing exercise is to sit and count my inhalations and exhalations. I say “1” on the inhale and “2” on the exhale. Then I focus on simply my lungs filling then expelling air.
I am going to implement this plan before my next game and I will let you know how it goes. I hope to be mentally stronger and more self-reliant when preparing for unknown situations.
The end of the pool stages in the Rugby World Cup 2011 and there have only been two upsets, Ireland beating Australia and Tonga taking France’s scalp. The tournament has shown varying weather conditions, playing styles and so far has been a great spectacle.
The quarterfinals have set up to exacerbate the debate between the Northern and the Southern hemispheres as half the draw contains what will be the expanded Tri-Nations and the other four of the Six Nations. The knockout stages will be interesting and not only the team but the hemisphere will gloat about World Cup glory.
There is only two criticisms I have of the tournament. They are minor concerns but they need to be addressed. The first is that the referees are doing a pretty good job, but they are going in with a predetermined attitude about what they are going to penalize. Whether that is how they talk to the tier two nations captains versus the tier one or whether they will generally favor the nations with “best scrummagers” in the scrum penalty count. Eliminating these predetermined ideas about refereeing can stop coaches, players and fans from second guessing the whistle blowers decisions. The second is the lack of time off for the lower qualifying countries. 5 days should be the minimum between matches, the 4 day break stops the teams from changing their game plans. The extra day could allow coaches to implement new game plans and have the more competitive matches that epitomized the first weekend of matches versus the last weekend.
On the whole, the Rugby World Cup 2011 is a worthy jewel in the crown of Rugby. I’m looking forward to seeing watching the knock-out stages and seeing who will have the bragging rights for the next 4 years. Can South Africa become the first nation to win back-to-back trophies? Can Australia be the first country to overcome a loss in the pool stages? Will the All Blacks finally win again? Can England or France overcome poor performances in the pool stages to once again turn it on in the knock-out? Or will Wales and Ireland finally return to supremacy as the per-eminent world rugby power? Can Argentina turn world rugby on its head? The next three weeks will answer all these questions.