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Rugby SA’s Psychology Helped Win RWC

Sebastian Langer 0

With the Rugby World Championship title in their pockets, the Springboks had every reason to be proud, not only of their physical prowess at winning the match, but because of the host of psychological tricks that they employed on the referee, Jerome Garces, to sway marginal decisions.

In the book ‘Miracle Men: How Rassie’s Springboks won the World Cup’, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus took the lead at the Springboks camp, and took great steps to getting players well acquainted with the various personalities, demeanours and mannerisms of all leading referees.

He did this in order to exploit them and allow players to manipulate a variety of areas by painting a picture that fell in their favour. In the Miracle Men book detailing it all, author Lloyd Burnard has taken apart the levels of analysis required by each Springbok player for each referee, and its highly impressive the sheer amount of detail which went into the 2019 Rugby World Cup win.

Psychological tricks

In order to gain an upper hand, the book showcases ways in how players would do extensive role playing at training sessions and team meetings in order to put into practice the various psychological tricks they were researching. For example, the data that was gathered on referee Garces noted that he was particularly pleased when his physical abilities and appearance were complimented – leading players to calling him out on the field during fast-paced sessions, complimenting him on how he’d kept up with the team, or noting that he was barely winded. They did this all in the hopes that he’d take a kindlier look at their side when it came down to decisions on the field.

Each of the players was responsible for the various game aspects – such as Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi who are hookers, overseeing the lineouts and scrums to ensure their side fell in line with Garces preference for a clean set piece, with no one wandering around. He wanted players to be where they needed to be quickly, so that the game could proceed on smoothly, which meant the hookers would often check in with him to ensure they were where they needed to be in order to keep the game as clean as it could be. With regard to Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen, the book notes that they took on a ‘good cop vs bad cop’ approach with Garces in the final, which led to Kolisi being the respectful captain and ‘good cop’.

One of the more interesting tricks that they used was the appearance of being subservient when it came to actual direct dealings with the referee and match officials. Not only in the way players managed their manners or made jokes they knew would be agreeable, but with regard to their physical movements – such as bending down to tie a shoelace or feign being winded from running. This drop in size from the player gave the officials the unconscious feeling of being in control or more powerful since they spoke down to the players.

The Real Pay Off

All of the psychological tricks seem to have paid off for the Springboks and they won as big as those wagering on the dogs at Though whether future teams and sides will go into the same level of detail when it comes to championship games remains to be seen.

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