TEAMTALKS are an interesting part of the life of a professional rugby player. My time with the Exeter Chiefs witnessed many good uns, some not so good and others that were inspirational match-winners.
From the infamous hairdryer treatment to the merest whisper, I can still recall a fair few. Let me share one memorable tub-thumper from my playing days at the County Ground.
We had made a good start in our challenge for league honours in 2004/5 season. The Chiefs sat on top of the league, closely followed by Bristol. The Shoguns, relegated from the Premiership in 2003, were highly fancied to head back to the elite league.
Bristol's financial resources greatly exceeded all other clubs in the league to fund their star-studded line-up. A bumper gate of 4,000 packed into the County Ground for the much-anticipated encounter between the Chiefs and the Shoguns. Yes, 4,000 was a big crowd for us in those days of not so long ago.
The atmosphere was electric, excitement high and expectations for the game were right off the barometer. Chiefs' credentials were good, but we were going to be properly tested by the Severnsiders.
Our coach at the time, Ian Bremner, had shouted his way around most of the starting team. He particularly focused his attention on the tight five. "If you don't get hold of the their pack in the first 10 minutes and show them who's boss you've failed. You've not just failed yourselves, you've failed your teammates, you've failed your family and... He continued with many more coarse words to that affect, bellowed at the big lads in the corner!
Taking in coach Bremner's words, my heart was pounding in my chest as the adrenalin built and built. I was going to die before I got beaten on this day and could see my teammates up front felt the same. It was no small wonder that we put everything onto the pitch that day and beat our more fancied opponents 23-12.
Indeed, I even managed to dot down a try, having bust out of a ruck 20 yards from the line. Standing triumphantly under their posts with the ball in one hand, held high above my head, to taunt Bristol fans and players. I recall captain Rob screaming at me to dot the ball down as I continued my dance under the posts. Happy days!
Closer to the modern day and away at London Irish in my last season as a Chief, I remember Rob, now in his coaching role, talking much more serenely to the guys at half-time. "Keep your cool, they've had the run of things but we're hanging in there. Stay disciplined and when we get the chance let's stay patient and work through the phases."
What I find poignant about these two recollections is how coaches today are so much more analytic and cerebral in their teamtalks. The nature of their communications demands more structure and science. There is less focus on getting on the hot-blooded warrior mindset (that is a given) and more on understanding the nature of the game and what must be done to get a winning edge.
This point was made all the more apparent to me on Sunday while watching our game at Kingsholm on TV. One of BT Sports' broadcast innovations is to interview the coach during the game. With the Chiefs in the ascendancy and his team thoroughly under the cosh, Nigel Davies was very cool and calm in his summation: "The Chiefs have the momentum at the moment but we are sticking in there and will look to bounce back after the half."
I can imagine the scene in Gloucester's dressing room with a host of England stars, not to mention Lions caps, all listening in. With the noise from the famous Shed providing the background, there will have been an expectation that the Chiefs would falter and the game would swing back in their favour. After all, this was Gloucester at fortress Kingsholm.
Just as Nigel Davies predicted, Gloucester did get control of the game early in the second half to lay siege on the Chiefs' line. Following a breathtaking first half that had seen our guys run up a decent lead, one could almost be forgiven for allowing a chink in the defence to appear, a tackle to be missed and even a try to be conceded.
Not this breed of Chiefs though! For 22 phases of play, that went on well in excess of three minutes, the Cherry & Whites pummelled our defensive line, throwing everything they had including the kitchen sink at our lads. For 22 phases the Chiefs not only stood firm but marched their opponents back 15 yards with our offensive defence. To a man, Captain Fantastic Dean Mumm and the guys repelled everything the Gloucester team threw at them and in that sequence of play won the game.
Harking back to the old school virtues that saw the Chiefs defeat Bristol just a few years ago, the team of today succeeded to merge warrior aggression with discipline, thought and understanding into a complete performance that, even without the ball, put the Chiefs in control.
And just like in our 2004/5 battle with Bristol, it saw a second-rower dot down the decisive score!
This weekend the challenge doesn't get any easier as the Heineken Cup comes to town and with it the arrival of the Cardiff Blues. In their rank are the captain and star of the victorious British & Irish Lions, Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny, plus half of the Welsh national side.
Although the game will be broadcast live on Sky, I would urge you to get down to Sandy Park to feel the excitement, emotion and challenge of Europe's elite league. Get behind our guys when we play only our fourth home game in the top club rugby competition in the Northern Hemisphere.
Today's Chiefs are wiser, fitter and so much better prepared than we were in my days as a player, but the warrior spirit remains an important element, as does the support of our fans, our 16th man.
Moving to more domestic matters at Exmouth, my Cockles teammates were taught a lesson on the road about the uncompromising nature of National League rugby. Losing narrowly to Dings Crusaders we learned that it takes a little savvy as well as the warrior spirit to win the close ones.
Having shipped a cricket score on our last venture away from the Imperial Ground, Saturday's 25-19 reversal was not such a bad result and we did manage a losing bonus. Battling back from a nine-point half-time deficit to lead by four points with just under 10 minutes to play, I admit that it did rankle a bit getting edged out at the death.
Without the injured George Savage (who is rumoured to be on a sartorial elegance course with the gentlemen back-rower Ben Blackburn) along with other front line absentees, this wasn't too bad a result and all part of the Cockles' learning curve. Focus has already shifted to the visit of Shelford this weekend.
Just like the Chiefs on Sunday, the Cockles could do with your support to fire up that warrior spirit as they continue to grow and learn. Should you be at a loose end this Saturday, please come and support four of the Chiefs' dual registered academy players alongside Exmouth's finest and this old dinosaur. Kick-off is 2.30pm. I look forward to sharing a few scoops with you after the game.
Until next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.