10 of the strangest rugby superstitions
These days, at the top tier at least, the sports psychologist is as much a part of a rugby team's retinue as the physio. So now we’ve got science, surely superstition has bitten the dust? Not so. Here’s a selection of weird and wonderful ways some of the world’s top players get their game on.
The lucky Friday night junk food binge
As the case of veteran South African hook Victor Matfield shows, enjoying a treat and calling it a ‘superstition’ can be a handy way of bypassing the rules laid down by the team nutritionist.
As the Springbok told the sports agency, Incubator Sports, “My only superstition is having a sweets feast the night before the game”. Not that it seems to have done him any harm; at 38 years old, Matfield is the oldest player in this year’s World Cup. So perhaps insisting on indulging in a little bit of what you fancy is one of the secrets of rugby longevity.
The number 13
When Tim Horan was preparing to return to the Saracens squad following his fourth injury for the club, he declared he was done with the number 13 shirt “after the run of bad luck I have suffered”.
If he’d been playing for the likes of Toulouse, the Aussie would probably have had no shortage of teammates willing to swap. Over the Channel, the number 13 shirt is positively coveted as porte bonheur, the bringer of good luck, and Thomas Castaignede recounts how two centres for Beziers spent a whole week arguing over who should wear it.
The team vomiting session
The world of rugby has more than its fair share of pre-match rituals. One of the least attractive is the routine at one time followed by the Welsh international rugby union team; vomiting in unison. The thinking behind it was that it would ready the team for the match ahead; clearing their heads as well as their stomachs.
Everything done just so...
The changing room is where players’ individual quirky routines and superstitions are most often on show; where things have to be done in a certain way, otherwise the whole match could be jinxed.
England rugby league international and Warrington player, Stephen Ratchford is a classic example. He describes getting his teammate, Chris Riley to reach into his bag and hand over his chewing gum at exactly five minutes before each pre-match warm up – a task that was later taken over by Chris Hill when Riley left the club.
No, after you…
Mike Tindall was one of those players who had to be the last man out of the changing room before big international fixtures. This is the type of routine that’s perfectly harmless – so long as it only applies to one of your squad. If most of your team have the same superstition, you could be faced with a long wait at the end of the tunnel while your team argues, prima-donna style, over who’s going to be at the tail end of the procession.
The lucky shirt
Many of us develop an attachment to a certain piece of kit that we simply can’t be without on match days. Sometimes it’s a superstition; more often it’s to do with familiarity and getting in the right mind frame.
The next time you’re given a hard time for clinging on to your favourite shirt for longer than seems sensible, remember that you’re in good company. Jonny Wilkinson’s a case in point; each time he appeared for England, so too did the same T shirt.
The correct socks
Whether or not that little bit of extra padding around the big toe really makes a difference – or whether it’s more to do with making sure the logo is displayed to maximum effect; either way, foot specific socks are now in many-a-player’s kit bag.
With this comes another thing to get superstitious about. For instance, when the All Blacks were routed by England in 2012, Brodie Ritallick vowed never again to get left and right mixed up.
Strapping up - at just the right time
Keeping the strapping on long after the injury has stopped niggling is common. Then, there’s the question of precisely when and how to apply that strapping. Here, Jason Robinson was a past master. Only when the clock had ticked down to a very specific time would the union and league star get his tape on.
Kung Fu fighting
Former Scotland international, Simon Taylor had a unique way of getting into ‘the zone’ before each match. A big Bruce Lee fan, his habit was to do a Kung Fu hands waving routine.
The most famous pre-match ritual in rugby – and probably the whole of sport, has its roots in ancient Maori warfare. The combination of chanting, scowling, facial contortions, foot stomping and arm waving was designed to bring luck to and inspire confidence in the war party, while having the added advantage of terrifying the opposition. Far from dying out, it seems that the All Black’s version of this tribal dance is getting more elaborate each year.
For all sportsmen, there’s always that nagging fear of suddenly ‘choking’ or inexplicably losing your touch. Especially where you know that the game is going to be finely balanced, you’re going to do whatever it takes to give you that all-important edge – however bizarre or irrational that may seem. Superstition, it seems, isn’t going anywhere.