Spare a thought for Rugby World Cup Losing Teams

Spare a thought for RWC Losing Teams

There are winners and losers; that is the harsh reality of sport. But do spare a thought for RWC Losing Teams this year, as the high demands of professionalism and national pride go hand in hand.

Feeling the consequences of defeat is learned from a young age. In team sports, it is an outcome reliant on the combined effort yet, it can be individuals and leaders that take it all to heart. When results go your way, life is good.

Positive outcomes, achieving results and with the adulation of fans and family, it is self-fulfilling. Teams progress further at the pinnacle event of World Rugby.

Suffer a loss, and the emotions are flipped. Despondent (as is natural) but when considered with the additional weight of expectation – both personal and professional – the impact is magnified. Searching for answers, it can be destructive for any athlete.

This is where Last Word on Rugby sees the need to show awareness of the fact. That losing does hurt. Our role is to celebrate sport but, to show an understanding of the greater pressures felt by male (and female) rugby players at any Rugby World Cup.

Even while you might progress faster than others, even the victors will be considerate of the other team. Respect in rugby is a core value, and even if handshakes can help, they do not dull the lingering feelings after a loss (see main photo).

Spare a thought for RWC Losing Teams

Abandoning your dreams of participating in a Rugby World Cup must be hard. If you can imagine the time, thought and effort that goes into the mental and physical preparations, the personal investment is huge.

Then multiply that by tenfold. That is probably getting close to what the players invested. And for the teams that have missed out, it is a dream ended early.

Scottish players missed out entirely on the playoffs, yet as you progress further into the tournament, the disappointment has grown larger. The ‘what ifs’ and the questions that are playing out now in team members and management staffs’ minds.

How much they dwell on it, might come down to experience. For a young player, a debutant on their first RWC campaign say, those thoughts and self-recrimination will be more evident than for your more experienced players.

Although the senior players will include responsibilities and higher expectations, it is those in which an individual can self-analyse their role in a loss for longer than it is healthy to.

Many sports psychologists will describe how athletes must eliminate the questions and ‘leave the emotional baggage’ of a loss behind. Assigning blame – in the case of Frenchman Sébastien Vahaamahina – will hurt more, as they feel it was something they could change themselves.

Learnings (as is the phrase) are fine, but when you are retired from the sport, those damaging thoughts can play over and over again.

Leave your RWC loss at the venue

For any sportsperson, you are only as good as your last result. And even though the years of training and learning to deal with defeat can help, if you do not leave your RWC loss at the venue, it may come to haunt you.

Autobiographies are awash with examples of men and women re-thinking ‘the moment’. A missed kick, a penalty error or poor input from teammates. But as unhealthy as that might sound, and with all the guidance and counsel available, even the best are susceptible to it.

Rugby World Cup debrief - Knockout football
Rory Best of Ireland reacts during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Quarter Final match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

The best advice is to deal with it ‘in the moment’. Then to place it into a file and close it. Obviously, in the deeply analytical world of professional sport, coaches and players have meetings and reviews to deal with. But in reality, Jamie Joseph or the Brave Blossoms players must step away from the situation. A bit harder for Scotland; who with a good result could have gone further – the same might be said of Italy, and for Ireland who just lost their quarter final playoff against New Zealand on Saturday.

Not being in control of your destiny for rugby players, can be harmful.

So, spare a thought for the likes of Rory Best (see above image). Think about Joe Schmidt too, admitting to media that “it hurts”. For those involved in RWC losing teams, the common advice is to allow them to move on.

To possibly get away from the sport, or to have some sort of distraction – and for some, that is to be injected immediately into domestic league competition.

Players abandon RWC goals for Domestic leagues

An example of this will be Scotland. By not reaching the knockout stages, the players and management will have been stressed by the downhearted process of packing up and departing Japan early.

Not achieving their goals is only one aspect which RWC Losing Teams have to deal with. Their teammates all feel the same, so in a way you would want to remove yourself from the environment. But a long flight home; and for some, a meeting with the Scottish Rugby Union to unlock ‘reasons why’ are only steps in a process of removal.

The rest may find ways to remove themselves from the game. If possible, take personal time off – unfortunately for the majority, domestic rugby beckons, and it will have demands of its own.

Even if the last thing you might expect rugby players to do, is to think about another game when RWC losing teams break-up, it is exactly what is likely to occur. The professional role they are paid to be involved in, means ‘no breaks given’.

No rest; Clubs ask players to refocus on 2019/20 seasons

No, if you were Stuart Hogg or others from Scotland (or possibly one of the losing quarterfinalists) you cannot rest and recuperate. Training with the squad before and certainly after the opening match of the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership, he will be asked to not take time and wait. Asked to meet their fitness tests early, and to offer his input – even while trying to mend himself.

Hogg might start against Bath for Exeter this weekend. And the same might be said for other Scottish players. It (might) apply to some French players too. They have even tougher ‘masters’ who may ask them to contribute as substitutes immediately.

And if asked, they must put any thoughts of their roles in RWC losing teams far from their domestic commitments.

That is the sign of being a professional. Although, each player is human. Form or fitness aside, the mental side is a big factor. It can be managed, and many of the best are able to achieve that. But for others, it is something they must work on – and as rugby fans, you just hope the sleepless nights do not hang around any longer than players deserve to.


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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