The length teams go to try and win the Rugby World Cup sometimes read like fake news.
For instance, there was a report that Wales players lubricated a rugby ball with baby oil when they wanted to simulate wet conditions during practice for their first match against Georgia last Monday.
They need not have worried – not only did the predicted deluge stay away, but with odds of 1 000-1 Georgia are rank outsiders to win the cup, and are in fact regarded as walkovers, like Japan before they beat South Africa at the previous World Cup.
However, unlike the Springboks then, Wales were not taking any chances. Before coach Warren Gatland reached for the baby oil he had submerged the practice ball in a bucket of water to get it really wet, but that turned out to be not wet enough.
Of course he could also have used Vaseline, a better-known slippery ointment used by studs, or even Vicks Vaporub, which could have come in handy too if anybody developed a wheezy chest by trying to hold on to the unholdable.
Even before arriving in Japan Gatland made sure his players were prepared for every possible condition in their host country. To this end they visited Turkey where the temperature touched 40 degrees, just in case a heat-wave hits Japan during the tournament, and after that they visited Switzerland to get used to conditions high above sea level.
Really? Wasn’t Japan only a flattish island with one volcanic mountain called Fuji?
Maybe the players went to Switzerland only as an excuse to for once get their minds off rugby, and on to some non-contact sport such as skiing.
As the defenders of the World Cup the All Blacks too made sure they came to the tournament well prepared. In their last warm-up game against Tonga their wily coach Steve Hansen did what has never been done before: he deliberately ordered one of his team’s 15 players off the field, to simulate what it takes to beat your opponents with only 14 men.
But why didn’t he try his luck with 13 men, or even 12? For the All Black still won the match 97-7.
Many couch commentators felt it was unsportsmanlike to deliberately face one’s opponents not at full strength, just as the tennis player Nick Kyrgios is criticised for suddenly refusing to play on during a match and in an inexplicable fit smashes his racket to smithereens before walking off court in a fury.
He should start playing rugby to see what happens if you lose your cool, on or off the field. Just ask Eben Etzebeth.
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