Have you ever been dropped from your team, overlooked in favor of someone else or not picked because the coach doesn’t like you? I have.
It’s not a fun experience, but it’s something almost every rugby player will have to live through and overcome in order to emerge as the best version of themselves. I hope my story helps you in that process.
One year while playing in an early preseason game my good mate Billy Elusive made a break in midfield and I was following up in support from fullback. He passed to me with a few players around and I had the fullback to beat. I had nowhere to go so ran straight into the fullback. Everything went to plan, and I set the ruck and play continued. The only thing was I can’t remember the ruck ever happening, and after the ruck passed over me, I was left on the ground. When I came to, the Physio was with me asking if I was ok. I responded a bit groggy and wiped the blood and sweat from my face.
When looking back at the video. I had clashed heads with the fullback. To give a better description I had run full noise with my face leading the charge and connected with the fullbacks forehead. We thought I had just suffered a knock and a cut above the eye so I ran off the field to have the doctor stitch me up and get ready to go back on the field. When the doctor examined me I had broken my cheek for the second time (Not the last either).
Cheek brakes are relatively straightforward to heal if it is not shattered. Once you have surgery it is just a matter of resting a few weeks then back training without contact until 4-6 weeks pass. Once I was healed I had to work my way back into the team by playing some development team games and training well. The team at this stage was relatively set and would be tough to get back into. I had an opportunity when there were a few injuries and boys were away with the New Zealand Sevens.
However when I thought I would be picked the coaches (Sean Horan and Steve Milne) brought me into their office. Before the team was to be named they told me I had been overlooked for another player. I was gutted but respected the players ahead of me. I really wanted to be apart of the team again. The part that really got me was that I asked the coaches when I got injured what I needed to do to get back in. I had done everything they had asked for. Again I wondered what it is going to take for me to get back in the team? I continued to ask the right questions when the conversation went to my final question. Do you believe in me as a player and that I can do the job for you? The head coach said… no.
Holy shit. What a way to rip my heart out and confidence at the same time. The truth hurts even though I am embarrassed to say. I almost cried. For a coach, I respected at the time to tell me that at a professional level fucked with me. It’s fair to say it took the wind out of my sails.
Later in the season, I did, however, manage a few cameo appearances off the bench. It was a small amount of game time to end a very disappointing season. Reflecting back, this conversation with the head coach was by far my biggest disappointment. I was not given a lot of clarity about why I hadn’t been picked which was the frustrating part. When a coach doesn’t like you he just doesn’t like you or when there are players much better than you fair enough. Looking at the team sheet however on that day the coach had picked three midfield back reserves with no halfback cover or flyhalf/fullback cover. Not exactly a balanced bench but there was nothing I could do about it and had accepted the decision.
If you ever have this sort of setback it is going to hurt. The philosophy I used was that it was his decision at the time. Accept his decision as his decision but do not let it stop you going forward. There are many other teams and coaches who will believe in you and your ability. Using it as motivation to improve, work harder and train harder with a view to the next season.