The Rugby World Cup is giving many stadiums around England their first taste of oval ball action. Brighton and Wembley, more used to seeing football, have fully embraced RWC fever, with the home of Brighton and Hove Albion FC used in a successful double-header over the weekend, including perhaps the greatest Rugby World Cup upset of all time as the Cherry Blossoms of Japan stunned the Springboks. The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, meanwhile, is no stranger to huge sporting occasions, but will welcome its first competitive rugby match on Wednesday as France take on Romania.
With these grounds being completely alien to the vast majority of players, there is plenty of talk of the time players need to adapt to new surroundings, and whether this could have an impact on performance. Of particular note is how kickers, used to the rugby strongholds such as Twickenham, manage their usual habits.
Former England fly-half and 2003 RWC winner Paul Grayson says the key for all players is to familiarise themselves with the new stadium as soon as possible, whether they are a kicker or not.
“If you can find every single bit of this place that is going to help you, that’s the whole point. Can I use that floodlight there to hit a cross field kick that’s going to give their full back visual problems? The goal posts in relation to the massive Meccano set that is the stadium – looking for a target area or a target height somewhere behind the posts (to focus on).”
Grayson is sure that if players take the time to develop an awareness of the new ground and prepare mentally during the Captain’s Run or the warm-up then there should be absolutely no issues in “nailing down (after considering those factors) to coming here and being 100% confident when you run out and it’s the game for real.”
One aspect of the tournament that the players can be absolutely confident in is the match ball. The Gilbert Match-XV (pronounced ex-vee) has been in play throughout professional rugby for over a year, having been used in the 6 Nations, Rugby Championship, Super Rugby, Premiership Rugby and European Rugby. The only change for Rugby World Cup 2015 is the colourway on the ball.
Grayson, who has been a key part of the Gilbert team in designing, developing and testing the ball, says players should have no doubts about the ball, and that those coming from tournaments not using the Match-XV will have no problems adjusting.
“We’re simple folk, rugby players. We want to get hold of what we’re going to use, practice with it and in five seconds once they feel it, once they kick it, once they throw it, they’re comfortable with it and ready to move on.”
Ensuring the transition to the Match-XV was as seamless as possible was crucial to Gilbert, making the new ball a non-issue with regards to discussions around Rugby World Cup. In fact, having been used in over 1000 hours of international rugby, players and fans alike can be 100% confident; the ball will perform.
“All internationals who’ve played this year already know this fella” Grayson continued. “It’s just got a different colour paint on. It’s that security and trust. Once you’ve got that you’re away.”
The new paint referred to by Grayson is a move away from tradition for Gilbert and the Ellipses so synonymous with the brand. Instead the tournament look and feel has been adopted, along with dark circles at either end designed to improve visibility as the ball flies through the air.
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