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ESPN SCRUM / Super Rugby 2014 / Verdict
The Growden Report
Motivation must have substance
Greg Growden
June 30, 2014
Waratahs 39-8 Brumbies (Australia)

It's taken a long while, but New South Wales Waratahs have at last gained reward from a Brumbies barb - real or fictitious; the 2014 Twitter torment certainly worked far better than the infamous mystery document of 1997.

All the talk on Saturday night after the Waratahs had swatted away the Brumbies to stand tall at the top of the Super Rugby ladder was how a certain social media post had inspired them.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika had tucked away in his back pocket a tweet from former Brumbies strength and conditioning coach Dean Benton posted after the Canberra-based team had won the first derby of the season between the sides.

Them's fighting words … especially as anyone who has taken any recent interest in the Waratahs knows they have worked hard under the tough Michael Cheika regime, to the extent that for the first time in years they are actually fit. Just ask the players about the umpteen times during the off-season they had to run up those torturous street steps near Coogee Beach. Even the memory of it now will make them dry retch.

Not surprisingly Cheika reminded all of his players of the tweet last week, and the players responded. The hard-working talent took delight in obliterating the Brumbies.

The motivated Waratahs, to a man, overpowered the Brumbies on Saturday © Getty Images

The Waratahs tried something similar 17-seasons ago, but it backfired big time.

There has been an edge to Waratahs-Brumbies encounters right from the opening days of Super Rugby; that feeling has a lot to do with the Brumbies relying in their formative years on a lot of players the Waratahs didn't want to bolster their ranks.

In Canberra, the Waratahs have always been looked upon as a bunch of Sydney spivs. And certain members of the Waratahs team management certainly carried on like that in 1997, when, annoyed the Brumbies had quickly become a Super Rugby force, they devised a sneaky way to motivate their players.

Before a Canberra match, the Waratahs players at a training session at Concord Oval were handed what appeared to be a secret document leaked from the ACT camp. On Brumbies letterhead, the document listed the New South Wales players, outlined their weaknesses, and what the Brumbies really thought of them. The criticism was scathing: some were described as feeble tacklers; others had no heart; some Test players were lazy and useless.

Several Waratahs were immediately suspicious, pondering if the document were a forgery and if the writer was instead from within their own ranks. As for stirring up the team, it had the opposite effect.

As former Wallabies fullback Matthew Burke wrote in his autobiography, A Rugby Life: "The whole thing was just a sad episode. I think we all had pretty fair idea who was responsible. It was a joke playing mind games like that with mature adults. Was it really something that had leaked out of the Brumbies camp? The general reaction from all of us after reading it was roughly the same, along the lines of 'That's not how I play the game!" followed by 'Is this really what the coach thinks of me? Whatever … it didn't work as a motivational tool."

The theatrics continued just before kick-off.

In those days, the Canberra dressing-rooms were side-by-side with a cardboard-thin partition between the two. So the Brumbies players heard their opponents endlessly screaming obscenities and, in the words of one long-time Brumbies official, "going absolutely bonkers".

Final score: Waratahs 9. Brumbies 56.

The humiliation continued after the game.

Back in the dressing-rooms, a Brumbies forward stood next to the partition and repeated back everything the Waratahs had screamed at his side two hours earlier. Then, at the after-match function, the Brumbies confirmed to their Waratahs opponents that the document was a fake.

And with it comes a lesson in how to properly motivate players: motivation actually has to have substance.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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