Editorial: There's no place like home ...

When sporting teams face a game away from home, their coaches' pre-match patter is usually much the same. The contest, they say, will, as always, take place on a grass pitch of standard dimensions and under set rules. The crowd may be hostile but their players, well-travelled and professional, will not be intimidated. What, therefore, is the problem?

There is a certain logic to this argument, but also a certain futility. Further evidence of the importance of home advantage, if any were needed, will again be on show when Italy and France contest football's World Cup final.

Despite pre-tournament predictions, teams from South America have fallen by the wayside. The experience and pragmatism of coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was not enough to propel Brazil beyond the quarter-finals. Argentina, widely applauded for its excellence, suffered the same fate. A significant statistic has been underlined. Only once, in 1958 in Sweden, has a South American team won the World Cup on European soil.

Home advantage clearly remains a powerful factor, even in the professional era. Take players out of their comfort zone and the performance of some is apt to suffer. Put them in an unfriendly stadium and some may be cowed. Not much perhaps, but enough to lose a decisive edge.

Rugby, of course, is the same as soccer in this regard. And that is why the All Blacks must make home advantage count at Jade Stadium this weekend when the Tri-Nations championship kicks off. The Wallabies have arrived from the warmth of Coffs Harbour. The All Blacks will have to move even further out of their comfort zone when they travel to South Africa later in the championship. There, the playing surface will be grass and measure the same, and the rules will be no different. Winning, however, will be so much more difficult.

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