IT IS one of the most difficult aspects of preparing for a game of rugby – perhaps the most difficult – and the higher the level you are playing at, the tougher it becomes to get right. How do you ensure you are up for a match, ready to throw everything you’ve got physically and mentally into the ensuing 80 minutes, while at the same time ensuring you don’t get so fired up that you become over-emotional?
There is a delicate balance to be struck there, and rugby players are not the most delicate of creatures, so it is no surprise that they sometimes fail to find that equilibrium. According to Gordon Reid, one particularly bad case of that failure came last year at Twickenham, when Scotland lost 61-21. There were other factors involved that day too, but as he looked ahead to Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield, the London Irish loosehead warned that finding the right combination of passion and rationality would be crucial for Scotland.
“It showed the importance of keeping a lid on things the last time we were down there,” said Reid, who is expected to hold on to the No 1 jersey when Gregor Townsend announces his team at lunchtime today. “Last year we let our emotions get to us a little bit too much, and that resulted in them beating us by a hefty amount.
“So it’s a huge thing for us to keep level-minded and keep our heads strong going into the game. It’s a massive game, especially for Scotland, and we’re playing a side that, with Eddie Jones as coach and all the players they’ve got to call on, I think is the best team in the world just now.
“It’s always going to be a big game; you’re always going to get emotional. The game against New Zealand [in November] was also a massive game, but we just need to step up to these games and not play the occasion. I just feel that we need to forget about how big a game it is and just go in there with clear heads.”
“I think you just need to take it as a normal game in the dressing room and do what you normally do at club games or whatever. If that’s beating your chest and shouting out loud, if that’s what you need to do to keep calm . . . “
“It’s Scotland and everyone’s there, but you just need to take a step back and actually look at where you are. You’re playing in front of your home nation, so take it in but don’t get too excited.”
By Reid’s own admission, Scotland got too excited before the game against Wales – excited by all the talk about how they were among the favourites to win the Six Nations Championship, to the extent that they failed to apply themselves properly in Cardiff. “Against Wales everybody hyped us up – ‘Scotland are going to win, Scotland are going to win’ – and I think we obviously believed that. We believed we could just go and win, just needed to show up.
“We believed we were great, the best team in the world – which was not the case. Leading into this game against England we just need to take a step back and look at ourselves so hopefully we can go forward and get a good result.”
Away from the pitch at least, Reid appears perfectly capable of remaining clearheaded and lighthearted, as was shown by his answer to a question about the tests he had to undergo earlier this season after a couple of concussions. “They identified that I had a brain, so that was quite good. I tried to get a dodgy doctor so he could just sign me off, but there was none of them kicking about so I had to go and see a specialist, who identified that I was totally crazy and that I had to have a couple of months off.”
On a more serious note, he added that his time on the sidelines was beneficial, helping contribute to his return to the Scotland squad. “It was good to get that break. Obviously I was gutted, but I had a couple of weeks away with my family and it brought back the spark when I got back into it.
“When you play rugby that much you’re always going to have injuries but that’s probably the longest I’ve been out. It was a tough three months, but it gave me the drive I needed to get back in.”