Next time you watch a rugby match, check out the players when the whistle blows at halftime. Most will turn and jog toward the tunnel or in the direction of the changing rooms.
They’ve just spent forty minutes hammering into rucks, throwing themselves into tackles, and chasing long kicks. They must be exhausted!
So, why do rugby players run off the pitch at halftime instead of slowly strolling away? There are four reasons for this:
- to intimidate the opposition
- to give your own team a psychological boost
- to have a longer time to discuss strategy
- to get to a resting place sooner
Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Jogging Off To Intimidate The Opposition
Many rugby coaches instruct their players to run off the pitch at half-time.
You may be surprised to learn that the goal is intimidation regardless of whether the team is winning or losing.
Jogging off while winning
Rugby is a collision sport with both teams looking for a physical advantage throughout the half.
It’s hard to win a rugby match if your pack is losing the physical battle. So, it’s a massive advantage when a team ends the first half having been physically dominant.
By physical dominance, we’re talking about:
- forwards staying on their feet when tackled and pushing their tacklers backward
- rolling mauls pushing the opposition pack backward
- dominance in the scrum by pushing the opposing pack off their own ball
- dominant tackles that push the ball carrier backward
You can probably see a consistent thread in the above examples: the opposition going backward.
When there’s a lot of that happening in a match, watching supporters will generally decide that one team has been dominant in the half.
You can be sure that the players on both sides also know which team that is.
When the dominant team jogs off the field, they are metaphorically signaling to their opponents that they aren’t tired from their exertions. They could push them backward all day.
Jogging off while losing
Coaches may stress that jogging off the pitch is particularly important when it’s a tight score or their team is losing.
Coaches don’t want their players to drop their heads and walk off dejectedly. This sends the message that the team already accepts that they have lost the match.
But there’s a full half to go!
By running off the pitch, they’re showing that they are eager to get to the next half and start the comeback.
The bottom line is: never show your opponents that you are beaten.
Jogging Off To Motivate Yourself And Your Teammates
You may see the captain slowing down to have a word with the referee. But other senior players will pick up the pace and run off the pitch.
They may be less worried about intimidating the opposition (previous section), and more interested in the impact on their teammates.
Body language is very important in a team sport. The leaders are showing their teammates that they are full of boundless energy despite a tough half.
If their team is losing, their goal is to improve the morale of the younger or less experienced teammates. They are using their body language to send a message.
Have you ever felt like falling to your hands and knees and crawling off the pitch at halftime?
If yes, why on earth would you hold your head up and act like you’re not tired?
Hundreds of years of psychology tell us that this is the right thing to do when you have to come out for another half of battle.
Your body language can translate into mental strength. The goal is to trick your brain into believing that you’re not beaten and tired.
The more old-fashioned coaches sometimes phrase it as going deep into the well. Do whatever it takes to find those deep reserves of strength and energy.
Maximizing Time To Review And Change Tactics And Strategy
This reason most applies to the team that is on the losing side of the score at halftime.
The coaches hopefully have formed a decision toward the end of the half about how they want to turn things around.
That judgment may be to stick to Plan A but to do it harder. So, the race to the changing room wasn’t actually necessary!
But the coaches will often want to tweak the playbook.
The scrum coaches may want to talk to the front-row about adjusting their height when they pack down.
The head coach may pull the main decision-makers together and tell them to play a tighter and more defensive game.
Or maybe they’ll tell them to go for a more expansive approach and spin the ball out wide.
These changes to the original plan take more than a few minutes to get across to a squad of tired players.
Simplest Reason: Get To A Resting Place Faster
The changing rooms have benches for taking the load off your feet. They have mats for stretching tired limbs.
Changing rooms in professional clubs have physios for massage and other treatments to get players ready for the second half.
If you dawdle on the pitch when the whistle blows at halftime, you get less time to use the changing room equipment that is there to help you recover.
An extra five minutes of stretching or resting may result in a three or four percent improvement in performance in the second half. In a game of thin margins, that could be the difference in winning.
Why Don’t American Football Players Run Off At Halftime?
We like to compare rugby to that American cousin we sometimes call gridiron.
In general, you don’t see American footballers jog off the pitch at a break. Why not?
Well, the reasons for rugby players don’t make much sense in football. Let’s run through them again.
Intimidate the opposition? They’re not paying any attention to the other team.
Motivate your teammates? They’re not watching you.
Time for strategic changes? Only the quarterback gets involved in strategy during a game, so the rest of the players don’t need this opportunity.
Get to a bench quicker? American football has so many stoppages that racing for a bench isn’t necessary.