The unique mentality of a rugby player

Alex Cuthbert of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Premiership Match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale

Alex Cuthbert of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Premiership Match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park on 12 June 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK - Credit: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

The mentality of a rugby player is something quite unique in my eyes, constantly putting their body on the line, week after week and dealing with knock after knock. Some having higher pain thresholds, and some will put their head into dark places with more ease than others.  
Yet, consistently in a rugby playing group, the mentality is what I would call slightly reckless when going out on to the pitch. It takes all types of personalities, for example Luke Cowan Dickie, who for most of the week is walking round with a couple of front teeth missing, to the Silky Josh Hodge, with boy band looks and never a hair out of place. 
What interests me more than ever, especially after the Chiefs/Sharks games, is the collective mentality and how this may change or stay the same over the course of a game, training week or a season/s. 
For those who watched the game, they would have seen the ebb and flow of what was a true top of the table match up, physically a game that makes my bones shudder.  
Sale controlled 99% of the first half and looked to have a number on the Chiefs, which would have had huge psychological impacts going to Manchester for the semi-final. However, the yellow card of Dave Ewers kickstarted the side into a fightback, furthermore with the red card being brandished to Sam Skinner.  
My opinion on the sanctions and in general the officiating of the game on Saturday are best spoken about in private, perhaps because I was now sat amongst the partisan Chiefs crowd. 
But my opinion doesn’t change the way in which a side with their backs against the wall pulled out a heroic performance, leaving the Sharks with a sour taste in their mouth.  
The challenge I see for the chiefs is having to play like you have your back against the wall from minute one. Rob Baxter would often emphasise the chance to play your best game every time you take the pitch. The boys will be trying their best to do that next week, with the chance of another trip to Twickenham for another final. 
Winning is what every player wants, but once you become the winner, the pressure and expectation to do this again only intensifies. For much of my time at the Chiefs, we were the underdogs, which automatically gives you a mental edge when going into any game, and the slightly easier approach of nothing to lose. 
The psychology of team sport is so difficult to replicate from one week to the next and is arguably the most important attribute the team can have. Luckily for the Chiefs that ‘fight for everything’ mentality was there throughout my time at the club, and I assume for some time before. It may have something to do with the hard-nosed Rob, or the numerous visits to the Marines training camp, whatever the recipe is we can see the results on the pitch. 
Possibly two more games to go, with the Chiefs being tested in every which way, wins like at the weekend will give the side a great deal of momentum to build on, they just need to get the mindset right from minute one. 

Manu Tuilagi of Sale Sharks is tackled by Luke Cowan-Dickie of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Pr

Manu Tuilagi of Sale Sharks is tackled by Luke Cowan-Dickie of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Premiership Match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park on 12 June 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK - Credit: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Sam Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs celebrates winning on the final whistle during the Gallagher Premiersh

Sam Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs celebrates winning on the final whistle during the Gallagher Premiership Match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park on 12 June 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK - Credit: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK


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