England and South Africa are tantalisingly close to glory as they prepare to face off in the Rugby World Cup final.
Ahead of Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown in Yokohama, we asked Lewis Moody – a World Cup winner with England in 2003 and a losing finalist against the Springboks four years later – to talk us through what it will take to emerge victorious in rugby’s biggest game.
Here is the former flanker’s guide to securing World Cup success.
‘HOW DO YOU KEEP THOSE EMOTIONS IN CHECK?’ – GETTING THE MINDSET RIGHT
Players from both sides will try to prepare for the contest as if it is any other game, although Moody acknowledges this is “easier said than done”.
“Everyone, including the players, knows what’s at stake,” said Moody, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.
“The hardest thing is keeping your energy in check so you don’t burn yourself out, whether that’s through anxiety, nerves or excitement. You can sort of play the game in your head and then your body has emotionally played it already. So you’ve got to keep that composure and unleash it at the start of the game.
“You have to figure out what works for you, how do you keep those emotions in check? For me, it was going to the cinema the night before a game, completely switching my brain off from anything rugby-related and just having a laugh.
“All the work has been done, you know all the moves, you’re fit. It’s just about figuring out what mindset you need to be in to deliver on that day and for me it was about being as relaxed as possible. Each player prepares in a different way – and just allowing them to do what’s normal for them is key.”
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‘FIGHTING A BATTLE IN YOUR OWN BRAIN’ – THE AGONY OF THE FINAL HOURS BEFORE KICK-OFF
If the days leading up to the game are tense, the final hours in the lead-up to kick-off present the toughest mental challenge of all.
“Without doubt the worst part for me was the evening before and then the morning of [the game], because that’s when the anxiety [is at its highest],” explained Moody.
“You’re in your room, all you’re thinking about is preparing for the game. Have you got your kit bag ready? Have you got your tracksuit and everything you’re going to be wearing? Is it the right stuff? Have you got a spare pair of boots in case one breaks, a spare gumshield? It’s just going through this list of things and then going to sleep and hoping you actually get some.
“You just want that time to disappear; you want to be on the pitch. Your comfort zone is when you’ve crossed that white line and you’re right into the thick of it doing what you know. Up until then you can’t control anything and your body is just playing tricks.
“Your mind is trying to maintain all those positive moments, the impacts you want to have, but the other half of your mind is allowing the gremlins to creep in. You don’t want to be the person who makes the mistake [that costs your team the game]. So you’re fighting a battle in your own brain until you cross that white line. That’s when it all relaxes and your body just goes into doing what it does, that muscle memory takes over and life becomes simple.”
‘ULTIMATELY IT WILL COME DOWN TO DISCIPLINE’
Amid heightened emotions, maintaining discipline looks sure to be vital, while Moody also feels much will depend on whether South Africa can deny England quick ball at the breakdown.
“Ultimately it will come down to discipline, because it’s going to be a tightly fought game,” he argued.
“The key for me will be the speed of ball that the forwards can get for the backs and that will come down to the breakdown. New Zealand, for whatever reason, swapped Sam Cane out [in the semi-final] and it meant England had free rein at the breakdown, really. We also had 19 turnovers against the All Blacks, which is an unprecedented number.
“I think having Tom Curry and Sam Underhill there, who clearly haven’t been phased by any of the players they’ve played against or any of the occasions – if they can boss that breakdown and keep England’s momentum going, then that will be decisive.
“They’re going to be coming up against some serious units in the South African backline, in [Siya] Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and [Duane] Vermeulen, who will be doing their utmost to impose themselves on that English triumvirate. It will be a fascinating contest and there’s no way in my mind South Africa will allow England the same speed of ball and momentum that they gained on Saturday [in their semi-final win over the All Blacks].”
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‘ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS TURN UP AND DELIVER IN THOSE 80 MINUTES’
England could hardly have performed better in their last-four victory over defending champions New Zealand, as they mixed a stunning defensive display with a slick and composed attacking performance to secure a 19-7 win.
Yet Moody, a veteran of 74 Tests between 2001 and 2011 including three for the British and Irish Lions, does not feel Eddie Jones’ side will necessarily need to deliver the same all-round showing on Saturday.
“It’s not about delivering the same performance. It’s about delivering the performance that is necessary to beat this opposition,” he said.
“Last weekend it was that type of rugby, this week it might be drop goals, penalties, a hard-fought forward battle. It’s about doing what it takes to win the match that’s in front of you.
“The reality of a final is its one game, all you have to do is turn up and deliver in those 80 minutes. And that’s where it can all change.
“We saw it in 2011. New Zealand were far and away the best side in the world that year and yet they only beat France by one point. All of a sudden the pressure and the anxiety came on. Even in ’03 we should have beaten Australia by 15-20 points really with the opportunities we had – it just shows how pressure can get to you some times.”
— Land Rover is an Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby —
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