Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Coaches push the 'p' word to troops

Stress or anxiety - Hammett and Kirwan believe it must be positive as they face off tonight

John Kirwan and Mark Hammett are poster boys for mental strength, men heading the new wave of rugby coaches.

They bark at the start of the week but shelve the verbal fury coaches delivered pre-match and at halftime when the laws changed to give them access to their teams.

Positive stress or positive anxiety are catch cries for Kirwan and Hammett, who have honed their Blues and Hurricanes for their opening Super 15 skirmish tonight at the Cake Tin.

"It means excitement, negative stress means worrying about things you can't control," said Kirwan. "Too many people in this game waste a lot of mental energy.

"The game is 7.35pm Saturday, you can't play the game too early."

Kirwan believes it helps players to switch on late otherwise they burnt too much nervous energy.

Every individual was different but anxiety was counter-productive and should be appeased by the pre-game work.

"You have to get used to the expectation," Hammett concurred. "You always wonder what the elephant will be in the room but that is just the nature of professional coaching."

Hammett is dealing with his third campaign as head coach at the Hurricanes and an expectation of success after last year's improvements. For Kirwan, this is his debut as head coach of the Blues, although he was an assistant to Frank Oliver in 2001 when the side finished second last.

A great deal has changed since then and in those advances, Kirwan has enlisted help to guide him through matches. "I used to get really uptight and emotional but I have worked hard on making sure I stay completely calm. If I get too uptight then I lose the vision of what I should be seeing."

Hammett likens matches to weekly exams for the staff and players. That constant inspection was a tough grind and if coaches couldn't cope they wouldn't stay around long.

Pre-season, Hammett spent a great deal of time crystal-ball gazing and working out how to create points of difference for the Hurricanes.

"It was about how we are going to create an edge and gain the urgency we need," he said.

Hammett was not fooled by talk of the Blues wearing L-plates with many novices in this series. Nor was he misled by Kirwan's lack of time as a head coach in Super 15.

"They have gone well in their trial matches and I am not fooled by their underdog tag," he said.

Hammett had lost his composure a couple of times during matches since he began his Super rugby coaching apprenticeship. He had learned from those hiccups and how it affected his teams.

"If you are still grumpy after a sleep and reviewing the game, the best policy is to have a crack on Monday," he said. "You will have trip-ups, it is how you deal with those and bounce back."

Kirwan does not favour sending a string of messages to his players during a game.

He will send some but save most of his thoughts for the interval.

"I will let my heart and instincts guide me. The days of big team talks are over - we do that stuff earlier in the week.

"Motivation may have to come at the break, it depends on the players' emotions. Two or three simple points might be enough."

- NZ Herald

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