The crowd and coach could not handle the pressure

I have been asked whether a crowd can have an impact (positively or negatively) on the performance of a rugby team.

Players will tell you that playing at home can lift their performance. Players will also tell you that if the home crowd has an issue with the administration, coach, a losing team or a controversial selection in the team, a critical and aggressive energy flow will be felt which may hinder creative, relaxed play. Playing away or in another country, with a mostly foreign crowd watching the match may feel ‘hostile and threatening’ resulting in timid and fearful play.

The crowd may be observers (and not active participants on the field of play), but if you view the creation of reality as a dynamic expression of the energy and informational flow between all participants in a broader context in a rugby stadium, then a crowd will certainly be able to influence the unfolding match. While we may not have an exact measure of this interconnected dynamic between team actions on the field and crowd responses to the performance, there is a quantum physics principle that states that the observer influences that which is being observed. The degree and nature of this influence cannot be measured, predicted and is never the same in all situations.

Every match has a unique feel to it and is dependent on the intensity of the circular pattern of energy flow between observer (crowd) and active participant (player). Last weekend, the Brumbies beat the Bulls in a thrilling semi-final Super Rugby match that was played at Loftus Versfeld, the home ground of the Bulls. The crowd are very loyal supporters of the team. However, during this match, I believe that the crowd and coach had a huge part to play in the team losing.

Let me try and sketch the unfolding process as I witnessed the match on television.

With around 20 minutes left in the match, the Bulls inched ahead 20-19 for the first time.

The Bulls continued to dominate the match territorially and had most of the possession as the minutes ticked away. The Bulls were camped in the Brumbies half during this time. With 12 minutes left to play, the Bulls were awarded a sure 3-point penalty in front of the poles. Instead of kicking the penalty, the captain Dewald Potgieter, decided to kick for touch in order to set up a line-out close to the Brumbies try line. The line-out failed to produce the try, but the dominance of the Bulls continued, as more and more pressure was exerted on the opposition.

With 10 minutes to go, another penalty in front of the poles was awarded to the Bulls. Again the captain signaled for a kick into touch close to the Brumbies try line. This time, the crowd started to show their disapproval with shouts and boos. Nevertheless, the kick for touch was taken. Again, the same result, no try, but still the continued pressure on the opposition.

Two minutes later, another penalty was awarded. The crowd erupted and intensified its message to the captain to take the sure 3-point penalty and kick for poles. The television camera focused on the reactions of the Bulls coaches and caught the head coach screaming into his walkie-talkie. It was clear that he was agitated by the decision-making of the captain. Despite the intense energy of the crowd voicing its disapproval, the brave captain stuck to his strategy and instructed the kicker for go for touch again, in order to sustain the pressure on the opposition.  Again the line-out failed and did not result in a try.

One of the complicating factors during this unfolding process was that a number of substitutions had been made by the Bulls which may have disrupted or hindered the execution of the line-outs.

With five minutes left to play (and the Bulls still dominating territorially), another kickable penalty was awarded. The crowd went crazy and ‘demanded’ that the penalty be directed to poles to get 3 points. The message from the crowd was deafening. As the dialogue between captain and players unfolded, one of the coaching staff ran onto the field and in no uncertain terms ‘instructed’ the captain to kick for poles. It was obvious that the stress had become too much for both the crowd and the coach. (A ‘passive’, observing participant watching a drama unfold can get very stressed, due to not feeling in control – think of when you are watching a thriller and how the music and lighting of the scene all feed into intensifying the suspense).

The captain now had no choice. He succumbed to the external pressure. He kicked the penalty, thus extending the lead to 23-19 with three minutes left of play.

While the score had been extended, the intense ongoing pattern of domination over the last 15 minutes had now been broken. The opposition now had gained possession and were playing in the Bulls half of the field for the first time during this period. Against all odds, the Brumbies managed to score a try from broken play in the last minute, winning the match 26-23.

It may be easy to blame the captain for the loss. In fact, some naive spectators may believe that 9 points were lost through his ‘poor’ decision-making. But when viewed through the lens of the quantum world, it can be argued that the crowd and coach were not able to tolerate the intense stress that was unfolding in the stadium. Each kick for the line-out, escalated the level of stress to the point when the captain had no alternative but to capitulate and change his strategy.

In a post match interview, Dewald Potgieter stated that he regretted not kicking for touch again for the fourth time. I couldn’t agree with him more.

My thoughts go out to him – it can’t be an easy time for him having to face all of the scathing after-match reactions, especially if he is being blamed for the Bulls not eventually being crowned the Super Rugby champions for 2013.

Deep in contemplation

Deep in contemplation

5 Responses to The crowd and coach could not handle the pressure

  1. Brian says:

    What an amazing perspective of the game, and I tend to agree with your comments. The coach is there to prepare the team for the battle, but as you state should only be an observer to the battle. The role of the Captain is to lead the team on the “battle field” as the game unfolds, and to make the critical decisions when needed. He is the one who takes accountability for those decisions in winning or losing the battle.

  2. Michael Galbraith says:

    Brilliant Ken

    Thank you

    Regards Michael Galbraith

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Dimitri says:

    Hi Coach

    What a deep insight! I too was an observer crying for the 3 points to be taken – never considering that he was actually hedging his bets on a score or superior field placement coupled with pressure.

    Thank you for your insight.

    Dimitri

  4. Dear Brian, Michael and Dimitri

    Thank you for your comments. My sense is that the first penalty was crucial in this unfolding process – it would not have been ‘wrong’ if he decided to immediately go for 3 points at that point in time – however, once he embarked on his strategy of territorial dominance and going for the try, there should have been no turning back since a pattern of intense pressure on the opposition started to unfold. But there are no easy decisions in the heat of battle during a knock-out semi-final, where the stakes are so high – that’s what makes top sport so interesting!

  5. Giaco Angelini says:

    Great insight Ken, an amazing appraisal of the unseen forces at play.

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