Sunday 17 November 2019

Gatland's final warning is not just a hollow jibe at rival

Wales head coach Warren Gatland. Photo: Odd Andersen / AFP
Wales head coach Warren Gatland. Photo: Odd Andersen / AFP

Tom Cary

The tit-for-tat between Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland has provided an amusing backdrop to the build-up to Saturday's World Cup final.

But the truth is that Gatland is right.

When the Wales coach noted on Sunday that teams "sometimes play their final in the semi-finals and don't always turn up for a final", it was a timely statement of fact.

You only need to look back through the World Cup archives.

France have been serial culprits. In 1987 they beat hosts Australia in an incredible semi-final in Sydney in which the lead changed hands five times in the second half alone.

But the French were unable to back it up in the final, going down 29-9 to New Zealand.

In 1995, Jonah Lomu ran in four tries as the All Blacks trounced England in Cape Town. It looked for all the world as if Sean Fitzpatrick's team would win. But they fell flat in the final against the Springboks the following week.

France in 1999 are probably the most famous example of all; Christophe Lamaison pulling the strings as they came back from 24-10 down against the All Blacks to win 43-31. Again, they could not back it up, losing 35-12 to Australia in the final.

Removed

The list goes on. New Zealand in 2011. They won but they were unbelievably tight in the final, light years removed from the team that had beaten Australia 20-6 at the same venue the previous week. The pressure and expectation clearly weighed them down against France.

Basically, a great semi-final performance is no guarantee of a great final performance. So how do England try to make sure they peak when it matters?

Andy Lane, professor of sports psychology at the Centre for Health and Human Performance, says it is about building South Africa up to the same extent as they did New Zealand.

"I'm not in the camp, so I can't see what the players are going through, or assess the mood," he said. "But it's definitely not easy maintaining the emotional pitch which they found last weekend.

"England would have built that game up for years. They always knew they were going to face the All Blacks in the semis if things went according to plan.

"They had their response to the haka planned, they entered the game with a real emotional intensity and they managed to maintain those levels throughout. Can they get as up for South Africa, even though they are, on paper, inferior?"

"I would consider showing England's players some of the big upsets of this World Cup or any previous World Cup, to remind them how dangerous this match is.

"They just need to realise that last weekend's success is no guarantee of future success. The Springboks are still a massive threat."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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