Mind Games: Springboks will have to be as cold as ice at the World Cup

2015-01-27 10:00

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Coach Warren Gatland resorted to extreme measures in an effort to extract a better performance from a Wales team said to be as fanatical about rugby as South Africans and New Zealanders.

During the 2011 Rugby World Cup, he said his team had been prepared by being exposed to temperatures way below freezing in Poland.

The Welsh squad were flown to Poland’s Olympic Sports Centre to undergo cryotherapy.

This involves small groups of people stepping into a chamber in which the temperature is lowered to -120°C. No more than five minutes (obviously!) are spent in the freezer and the idea is to apparently flood the bloodstream with endorphins.

Athletes emerge from the chamber and go straight into heavy training. The idea is to “school” the body into delivering and sustaining a higher level of intensity.

In this Rugby World Cup year, all coaches are looking for that extra edge and Springbok boss Heyneke Meyer could well consider whether there is a way he can add an icy touch to his preparations.

He does not have to go as far as booking flights to Poland, but it is my contention that one of the biggest threats to the Springboks whenever they play overseas (sometimes in New Zealand and invariably in the northern hemisphere) is their inability to cope with cold and wet conditions.

Overseas teams that come to South Africa have long complained about the effects of the Highveld altitude on their players, but the truth, as once pointed out by the great Gareth Edwards, is that it’s much easier to adjust to warm weather and smooth, closely mown fields.

South African players have to make a far bigger adaptation to cope with conditions that are alien to them.

They do sometimes have to play in the wet at home, but it is never as cold as it gets in the UK and the fields seldom as cloyingly muddy.

Players are just not accustomed to having frozen fingers, runny noses and eyes and to adopting the shorter-striding, choppier running style required.

Controlling and passing the ball is difficult as different techniques are required.

One often sees, as happened on the most recent tours, the Springboks falling short of their usual ability to maintain possession and set up their phase play.

Extremely cold and damp conditions are a challenge to the Springboks but to his credit, Meyer has identified this as a potential Achilles heel in the Boks’ armoury.

The World Cup has purposely been scheduled for September and October in the hope of better weather (the Boks normally tour in November), but the team need to be prepared if it turns nasty.

The Boks’ initial base will be at the Lensbury Club and St Mary’s University in Twickenham. As odd as it sounds, Meyer will doubtlessly be hoping the temperature will drop, the icy squalls will blow in and he will get a badly cut-up field in the vicinity to prepare his charges for every eventuality.

The Boks’ pool games will include two famous football grounds which, given how closely the surfaces are cropped and rolled, will present an additional challenge.

First up, the Boks will take on Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium, followed by Samoa at Villa Park (home of Aston Villa) in Birmingham, Scotland at St James’ Park (home of Newcastle United) in Newcastle, and the US at the new Olympic Stadium in London.

And if all goes according to plan, the Boks’ knockout matches will be played at Twickenham.

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