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7 Of Rugby's Weirdest Pre-Match Superstitions

7 Of Rugby's Weirdest Pre-Match Superstitions
By Balls Team
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Pre-match rugby superstitions are a commonplace in most dressing-rooms.

For instance, research suggests that 13% of rugby players consider touching the tunnel ceiling as they descend upon the pitch as key to their performance.

These players, however, take rugby superstitions to different extremes. Here are seven of the most weird and wonderful rituals from the rugby world...

1) Simon Taylor was kung-fu fighting


The tough-tackling former Scottish international is responsible for one of the most entertaining rugby superstitions of all time.

Taylor wrote in BBC's 'Going Down Under' series during the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia:


As far as superstitions or pre-match routines go, I must confess to having a strange habit.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always done the Bruce Lee kung-fu wavy hands in the changing room before games. I loved the film Enter the Dragon and thought he was really cool, so I’ve been doing it ever since.

2) Mike Catt's itchy ear




South African-born England international Catt used to gently flick his own ear as the camera panned across the England squad during 'God Save The Queen'.

For the 75-cap Catt, this initially started as a means of saying hello to his watching family, but soon became an obligatory pre-match routine.


3) Tim Horan and the 2001 Saracens' fear of 13


In an article he wrote for The Guardian back in 2001, France and Saracens fullback Thomas Castaignède revealed that Aussie rugby great Tim Horan - then a teammate of his at Sarries - had refused to wear the 13 jersey when he started at outside centre on his return from injury.


Horan had suffered four injuries in the shirt that season, and demanded that he either wear 12 or 26 when he returned to Saracens' starting lineup.

"I will be wearing number 12 or number 26 when I get back from this injury but not the dreaded number 13 after the run of bad luck I have suffered," the former Wallaby told the Evening Standard.

Castaignède wrote of his pal's decision:


My club-mate Tim Horan's decision to avoid the No13 shirt when he returns from injury made a bit of a stir last week and, given the way we've been hit at Saracens this season, I can understand it.

When I arrived at the club at the start of last season, I think there was only one player injured. Now it's as if there is a witch doctor sitting out in Africa sticking pins in effigies of our best players, one after the other. I don't know who is paying him, but I'd love to find out.

In Tim Horan's case, I'd say that refusing to wear No13 will be part of the psychological process of coming back after his injury. He's not a player who is mentally fragile - he is an Aussie after all - but it's a good way of making a break with a difficult time when he is under pressure.

4) Olivier Merle and the banana boot



Castaignède wasn't finished with rugby superstitions, however. In that same Guardian piece, he regaled readers with a cracking yarn about French second row Olivier Merle, and the latter's rather odd boot habits.

The French goalkicker and long-time BBC pundit wrote:

There was a legendary occasion with Olivier Merle, the French lock. He would never put his boots on until the very last minute before an international, and would always warm up in trainers during the week.

One of the props, Christian Califano, put a banana in his boot on the Monday before we were to play Scotland in the last game of our grand slam in 1998. His boots are like canal barges, so he never saw it.

You can imagine how the banana was when the Saturday came - nice and mature.

He put the boot on at the last minute, really focused for the game, with no idea what was in there. Califano began laughing, and Merle chased him round the changing room yelling that he was going to kill him. Fortunately for us, Califano was a faster runner.

Knowing the way rugby players are, Merle's pre-match ritual probably now includes looking in his boot to make sure no one has put anything in it.

5) Johnny Wilkinson's order of merit


During the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Johnny Wilkinson - then renowned for his meticulous goalkicking routine - revealed to the BBC that his pre-match rugby superstitions were of a similar vein, in that they had become routine as opposed to superstition.

Writing in the same column as the aforementioned Simon 'Kung-Fu' Taylor, Wilko explained:

There's one player who keeps vomiting in a bin, but I don't think that's superstition, I think it's something he can't help!

I always wear the same t-shirt under my England shirt. And I always go out to warm up, come back, put my shoulder pads on before my England shirt.

I'll never warm up in my England shirt.

But this is more routine rather than thinking "if I don't do this, today's going to go horribly wrong. People like to have their own routines to fight back the nerves to keep them sane.

Things didn't go too badly for him, that year.

6) Alan Whetton's 'Mystic Mac'


All Blacks great Whetton had quite a prolonged and complex pre-match superstition. The first part of it involved the famous black shirt. The second would involve him going walkies when the Kiwis were playing at Eden Park.

The inaugural World Cup-winning back row explained:

I would put the jersey on a peg by itself – it would command a lot of respect. So I would look at it. I used to have my togs, boots and mouthguard in a bag below – they didn't quite warrant being together with the shirt.

Also, 40 minutes before a game at Eden Park, I would go round to each corner and would imagine myself dotting down in that corner. I used to pat the grass thinking: ‘That could be AJ’s spot'.

An early iteration of 'visualisation', perhaps, but it certainly worked for Whetton; the Auckland native scored 26 tries in 65 games for the All Blacks from the back row.

7) Jon Smit: No nonsense


Last but not least, record-breaking 82-time Springbok captain Smit wore exclusively black underwear on matchdays. The legendary South African was of the belief that any other colour would bring him bad luck.

Smit went black, never went back, and earned himself a World Cup winners medal as well as two Tri Nations titles in 111 caps.

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