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Game day rituals play role in World Cup final

Updated: October 20, 2011, 20:55


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) All Blacks coach Graham Henry says he won't make any tub-thumping locker room speeches before Sunday's Rugby World Cup final against France. It's never been his way.

Henry revealed on Friday he says nothing in the dressing room immediately before matches, preferring to leave any last-minute talking to captain Richie McCaw or simply to leave his players alone with their thoughts.

Each of those players will be following their own carefully planned pre-match routine, performing tried and tested rituals designed to get them into the right mindset for the biggest match of their careers.

Game day rituals have always been a part of top sport: most players have them and they play a vital role in calming and focusing players as they prepare for a major match.

Just before he enters the dressing room on Sunday, young All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock will throw a ball up three or four times and catch it above his head, a ritual he's followed since childhood but which has taken on more meaning since it became his job to catch kickoffs.

Inside the locker room, scrumhalf Piri Weepu has a routine that involves hanging his jersey where he can see it and then putting on his headphones.

In the long day preceding a final that kicks off at 9 p.m. local time, players will employ various means to divert themselves and to steady their nerves.

Scrumhalf Andy Ellis says the All Blacks backs may go for a coffee and play a game of cards. Some players will walk the streets to soak in the atmosphere around the match while others hide from it, staying in their hotel rooms listening to music or sleeping.

Each will take the route that gets them to the match focused and ready to play.

"Each player's got their own prep on game day but I would say when everyone's ready it's pretty much gametime,'' he said. "Everyone does their preparation during the day and before we get on the bus that's when everyone knows they're ready.

"Each individual listens to music, some of the boys stretch and others like to read over what things we are doing in the game so they've got a good understanding and they can go out there and just play.''

Weepu's own routine extends through the trip from the hotel to the stadium and into the locker room.

"When we get into the changing room I hang my jersey up where I can see it and put the headphones on and that's pretty much it,'' he said. "It's just a song that plays in my head because I know without my teammates I wouldn't be here and I'm pretty sure they feel the same.

Henry "doesn't do a lot of talking. It's basically our game leaders who are leading the team around and Richie,'' Weepu said. "We pretty much leave our talking for what we do on the field.''

The All Blacks coach is happy leave the last-minute motivating to the players.

"Sunday night before they run out on the field is their time, it has to be their time,'' he said. "They've got to get their own minds right and settled and on the job. People talking to them at that time is an absolute waste of time, in fact it's a distraction.

"Words will be said today and words will be said tomorrow. I personally don't believe it's the right time to talk to teams, just before they play.''

Music plays a large part in most players' preparation, most using carefully compiled play lists as an aid to motivation. They listen to rap, rhythm and blues, hard rock. Hooker Keven Mealamu jokes that frontrowers are big lovers of classical music.

"I like to listen to music in the hotel,'' fullback Israel Dagg said. "I always wear my headphones and jam me some sounds. I lie there on my bed and look out the window and kinda pinch myself. I can't believe it's here and I try to pinch myself and get ready for the weekend.''

Winger Cory Jane is more laid back.

"I sleep,'' he said. "The games are getting later and later so I sleep in late, have a late breakfast or lunch. I'm pretty relaxed.

"There are a lot of guys who lose the plot, guys in the team who really like to focus ... like Israel Dagg. He has music on and you just can't talk to him.

"But I don't get nervous much any more. I used to a few years ago, I'd be terrible but I've relaxed over the years. It's good to get excited but I don't have any rituals.''

Jane says he has eclectic musical tastes.

"I just mix it up a little bit,'' he said. "I know a few of the boys like hard rock but I don't listen to that. If a good song comes on, it could be a Britney Spears song but if it feels right in the minute I might play that and just enjoy it.''

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