Over the rainbow
As the rain pours in Tokyo, Dave Walder wonders why the weather is never a factor for team selection.
Last Updated: 22/11/11 12:38pm
It was with a certain amount of dread that I opened the curtains on Saturday morning.
The management deemed the game big enough to warrant staying in a hotel the night before and I was woken by what I suspected was rain pounding against the window of my tiny room in downtown Tokyo.
Unfortunately, my suspicions were confirmed and as I stumbled down to breakfast, I started to question why the weather always seems to be worse on game day and, in particular, the two-hour duration of the match, than at any other time of the week?
It got me asking why rugby is one of the few sports where a team is selected and announced early on in the week regardless of weather forecasts?
Tactics are discussed and then passed on from coaches to the team. Mention may be made of certain individuals/team plays to be wary of, but rarely in the teams I have represented have we approached a game with a different game plan taking into account any potential changes in weather.
The game plan is usually revealed on a Tuesday and then practiced all week until it is engrained in the minds of even the front rows. Then, on the day of the game, if the coaches awake to find it pouring, they simply turn to the fly-half and say about territory being important and not to play too much rugby in the wrong areas.
Wet and dry
What I have often wondered is why teams don't wait until game day or as close as is possible to finalise selection. Practice two styles of play - one for the wet and one for the dry - and pick players on their strengths accordingly.
For example, if I had been Martin Johnson at the last World Cup, I would have taken Charlie Hodgson to give the squad more than one way of playing. Not only is he an exceptional distributor, but, also, the best kicking fly-half in England in terms of controlling a game with his boot.
He is as close to a Ronan O'Gara figure as there is in the English game and is more than capable of pinning a team back with his searing diagonal kicks.
The key is that he spirals the ball. The ball is therefore in the air for a shorter period of time and gives the opposing full back less chance of catching it on the full. Jonny Wilkinson is an exceptional goal kicker and end over end punter of the ball, but has never been one for too much kicking in open play.
I can hear the howls of how aimless kicking is what has hurt the game in England over the last few years and has stifled the natural flair of players such as Ben Foden and Chris Ashton.
However, as has been proven with the Irish team, there is a time and a place for both and there are players who are more suited to one than the other. The bravery is in the coach willing to give both a try depending on the conditions the team is facing.
One of the most used phrases in sports psychology is "control the controllables" and often the team which adapts their game quicker to the variants thrown at them ends up winning. At least with the weather, you have a week to practice for all eventualities.