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The build-up to a game in the Six Nations is one filled with excitement, atmosphere and nerves – something former Ireland international prop Reggie Corrigan is more than familiar with.
Here, he gives Pundit Arena his fascinating insight into what happens in those crucial hours leading up to kick-off.
Matchday begins fairly standard, wake up early in the morning, probably trying to get as much sleep as possible the night before, often that’s not easy. You wake up and immediately the first thing you think of is ‘ok, how am I feeling?’.
You kind of do a quick check of yourself almost lying in the bed. Does the head feel alright? That there’s no flu virus after creeping in out of nowhere or that there’s no serious injury or muscle strain that’s after happening.
Once you’ve cleared all that, it’s the usual – you get up, shower and get ready to head down to breakfast with your roommate.
You’re probably looking at 8.30 for breakfast because they’re very conscious of getting fuelled up as much as you can before the match.
I remember being in the breakfast room, we were staying in the Hilton, right slap bang in the middle of Cardiff city – beside the castle. We looked out of the breakfast room window which was onto an adjoining street and there were a number of bars and already they were open, running breakfast specials and the streets were filling already at half eight in the morning with Welsh supporters.
Grand Slam decider in 2005 and I remember thinking, ‘wow, this is a bit mad’.
So you sit down, have breakfast and you’re just chatting with the team and everything is low-key at that stage because there’s still quite a bit of time to go to kick-off. There are nerves there already starting to build, you can feel the butterflies in your stomach. You’re not that hungry on matchday. You have to force yourself to eat because of what is coming down the line.
Time to kill and the pre-match meal
After breakfast it’s usually a case of heading back up to the room, you’re flicking through TV stations trying to fill in an hour or so and then after that we would probably go back over some lineout sheets and just recap on your role to make sure you’re clear on your positions in various different moves that might be going on and that kind of team tactic stuff. You’re just trying to kill time until you have to go down to the pre-match meal.
The pre-match meal routine is usually pasta and chicken or something bland but functional. You try to eat as much as you can. I found it very, very difficult on matchdays to eat. I struggled a lot with it. If I felt too full going out onto the pitch, I didn’t feel right, I couldn’t run. So I had to be careful with how much I drank and how much I ate.
At this stage looking out the window of the team room, the streets were jammed. People were already in pubs having breakfast, drinking beer, singing songs, having the craic and this is all around 11.30 or 12 o’clock. The town was hopping – I’ve never seen so many supporters gathered in one place so early for a game.
After you’ve done that, you go back to your room and it’s literally about a 15-20 minute break where you’re gathering up your last few bits and pieces. Then it’s down to the team room for the captain’s meeting and this is where the coaches leave it. It’s just the captain with all the players, the coaches don’t get involved. The captain has his thoughts and a few senior players will say a few words about their thoughts on the game.
They would usually be quite emotional meetings around what it has meant to get there, the sacrifices that have been made to get there. Family would often get mentioned and the importance of the game and the importance of us performing as a team.
Some people say nothing, one or two might say a couple of things but the vast majority of people are just focused on their role and they’re trying to stay level-headed because the nerves really start to kick in at that point.
Bus Journey To The Stadium
Where we were staying was about a five-minute bus journey to the ground and it took us 40 minutes to get there that day. We had police on horses in front of us and behind but the crowds were just jammed into the streets.
There was talk afterwards that 300,000 people came into Cardiff that day from the valleys and surrounding areas for the Grand Slam decider.
The bus couldn’t get through so we were literally going at a snail’s pace through the crowds to get into the crowd and of course, that just encouraged the Welsh supporters! They came along, they started rapping the side of the bus, singing at us, cheering at us, you name it. It wasn’t untoward it was just ‘we’re here, we’re singing and we’re going to let you know that we’re here’.
It was a very surreal feeling just inching your way through those crowds of people to get to the ground.
Soaking Up The Atmosphere
You get out of the bus and that’s when you really feel the butterflies starting to go because you’re at the ground, this is it. It won’t be long now until it all takes off. It’s straight to the dressing room and find your spot. Rala will have everything laid out, everybody’s positional stuff and the stuff that some players like, maybe a Gatorade or a Powerade, other players just like water, other players like to have a snack before they go out and Rala knew everyone’s nuance. It was incredible detail that he used to go into.
You drop the bags immediately and everyone would head out onto the pitch and you would soak up that feeling of being in that stadium. The nerves were there but you could soak up the atmosphere more than just panicking because the later stages it gets a little bit ‘ah, it’s here and any second now it’s going to start’.
Everyone would head back in and then it’s time to put on all the last-minute strappings, bits and pieces, get yourself ready and into your warm-up gear. The warm-up would be usually about 30 minutes or so. Warming up first of all, followed by some drills, followed by some lineouts with the forwards and finished off with a team run for five or six moves where we would run off lineouts and scrums.
Again, you go back in and it’s match time. There would be final words from coaches and then a final word from the captain in a huddle. Match jersey on. The referee would call time and everyone would line up in the tunnel. You would be ushered out onto the pitch and teams would take their place on either side of the officials in the middle for the anthems.
This is my favourite part, you have an idea of where your family and friends might be and you’re trying to scout the area that you thought they were in. The odd time you would find people that you knew and they would spot you and wave down. You might give a nod or whatever.
You’re trying to stay focused but at the same time, knowing those people were there helped a lot. You knew you had support from people you knew and loved.
The anthems would come on and that was just the most amazing feeling ever because as a kid, you’re watching it on TV and it doesn’t matter how many times you stand out there, it puts a lump in your throat. You’ve always dreamed of doing it and here you are doing it. You’re always saying to yourself, ‘you never know if this is the last chance I get to do this’ so I’m going to enjoy it, I’m going to soak it up and make it a special moment that I’ll never forget and that’s what you do for every one of them.
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