Mind Games: To motivate your rugby opponent, insult him

As a knight of Her Majesty’s realm, Sir Clive Woodward is perhaps “not the brightest”. 

The coach who was in charge of England when they won the Rugby World Cup in Australia in 2003 managed, as we say in South Africa, to do something incredibly “dof” in relation to Stuart Lancaster’s class of 2015. 

Speaking ahead of England’s disastrous match against the Wallabies, in which they became the first host nation to be knocked out of their own World Cup, Sir Clive had this to say: “Contrary to popular belief, they are not the brightest team…” 

And Sir Clive’s verbal faux pas had hardly reached the press and there was Danny Cipriani, a bitter young man more famous for his off-field peccadilloes than his on-field brilliance, weighing in with some stupidity of his own. 

Utility back Cipriani, who was omitted from England’s squad for the tournament, declared that not one Wallabies player would make it into the England side and a home win at Twickenham was all but assured. 

Writing his blog on the Paddy Power betting website, Cipriani divested himself of this opinion: “England’s players know what they can do and they only just touched the tip of the iceberg against Wales (a game England lost). 

“They didn’t quite put the nail in the coffin, but if it all clicks together on Saturday, Australia won’t have an answer. 

“Not one Australian would get into that England team right now. The Aussies will be fired up, but when it comes down to it, head-to-head, England are too strong.” 

I blinked when I saw Woodward and Cipriani’s dismissal of the Wallabies, but Aussie coach Michael Cheika would have lit on the newspapers with delight. There’s nothing like motivating a team by telling them they’re stupid and not good enough to make the team they’re playing against. 

You would think a pair of former England players, coming from the land of Winston Churchill – who knew the power of words – would have known better. The ill-considered word can be a powerful motivator for the other side. 

Jake White stepped on a snare unwittingly set by the Irish press in Dublin in 2004 when, in reply to a question about whether any Irishmen would make his side, he said “none”. 

White did not mean it as a put-down, only that he was loyal to his own squad, but the story that came out had him dissing the Irish, and their coach Eddie O’Sullivan seized on it to fire up his team. 

Another time, a loose tongue worked for the Boks. On the year-end tour of 1995, after their World Cup triumph, England’s Mike Catt was quoted as saying that Francois Pienaar was “an average player”. 

Canny coach Kitch Christie kept the clipping and, as the players huddled together in the dressing room before the match, he produced it. “Boys, these guys say your captain is an average player. Go out and show them!” 

That’s all he said. The Boks got the message and tore into England from the first whistle to record a clear-cut 24-14 victory that would have been more emphatic had their old nemesis, Scottish referee Jim Fleming, not denied Chester Williams an obvious try that would have given him a hat-trick. 

To paraphrase crime movies – never say anything that can be used against you in the printed word. 

It’s too late now, but you have to wonder what Woodward and Cipriani were thinking. 

Follow me on Twitter @retiefdan

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