Is a rugby game exciting without a Crowd
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 22: General view of AMI Stadium prior to the round nine Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Stormers at AMI Stadium on April 22, 2017 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The rush to get sport up and running again brings up a unique consideration. With nobody cheering them on, is a rugby game exciting without a Crowd?

As Covid-19 health conditions restrict crowds gathering in large numbers in New Zealand, Australia, and across the globe, what will the atmosphere feel like? That is, in comparison to the familiar cauldron-like barracking and cheering that any typical large rugby game can create.

It can feel like all the eyes of the crowd are watching each passage of play, reacting to the ups and downs of their team. It makes for an engaging sport and is something ball sports and team sports enjoy. So with no reaction, no cheers or jeers, how players act will be indicators of success that impending Super Rugby, and future scheduled Premiership or Northern Hemisphere rugby competitions.

Success because a rugby game where nobody cheers loudly for the try scored, is less rewarding. Meaning, the self-satisfaction that players receive from spectator applause is not there. How would that make you feel?

Maybe, it is just temporary although will Beauden Barrett or Sevu Reece enjoy their sport the same, with no crowds cheering? Would Owen Farrell or Maro Otoje feel the same way? No adulation – apart from the commentators [which they cannot hear]. Apart from the post-game interviews, feedback, and analysis.

It may feel strange but, will it limit their enthusiasm, or the player’s sense of motivation?

Is a rugby game exciting without a Crowd

In a recent article in Stuff.co.nz, this statement rang true. ‘Home teams might find that their advantage disappears and players who tap into the emotion provided from the stands will have to find some other ways to motivate themselves’.

Empty seats in the north stand at Twickenham Stadium on February 10, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Each of the five New Zealand franchises will treat the situation differently, and some will obviously revere the fact that any local derby game, is better than no game at all.

Coronavirus has altered the current state of the game. Few, if any planned rugby games will be played in front of a crowd – not when Level 2 restrictions mean social and physical distancing. Crowds are months away, in the same volumes as in a regular season. Staying two meters away from others makes for an unexciting setting, one where teams train, travel, and play in isolated bubbles.

Exciting may only be an adjective in use but, in terms of emotion, performing for no audience is rather improper. Something that might feel unique, to begin with, but will soon be hard to re-enact. All rugby followers will be watching the player’s reaction to the strange scenario, as much as the match outcomes.

Even while news outlets speak of players excited to be playing again, preparing for a full domestic season, the reality might feel very very different.

Empty Stadium might give an ’empty feeling’ to matches

Who is to say, as there have been no rugby games yet played. Few will know the sensation of putting 100% into a match, for zero appreciation. An empty feeling, or at least a reduced sense of gratification. No, let us re-phrase that. No ‘immediate appreciation’ aside from teammates.

That is because thousands, tens of thousands of rugby fans will be watching only at home. From June 13, the two fixtures per weekend for Super Rugby Aotearoa (and any intermediate Australian domestic league) is the first exposure to rugby games in a Covid-era.

Success will be the ‘proof will be in the pudding’; how it is perceived by players and stakeholders. How many people subscribe to watch at home, or in a bar – under strict social distancing measures, of course.

In European football, Germany is the first league to return with empty stadiums. And fan reaction is ‘somewhat mixed’.

Will rugby games with no crowds feel the same? Quite possibly. An empty stadium will itself just look odd. Add to that the sharp tone that the referee’s whistle will make – piercing the silence of zero-crowd reaction. Infringements will now be clearly heard by the backs, so don’t expect excuses that ‘we didn’t hear you Sir’ to get any traction.

The cacophony that is usually associated with live sport will now be replaced by dead silence.

If the interpretation goes against one side, who will protest? No one other than players, and refs will not want any more criticism that will be clearly audible. Who will enjoy the prodigious punt to clear the ball in the 22? The clapping which usually follows is no more. No appreciation; except for the watching TV audience. Very strange to even consider let alone play in.

An empty feeling……possibly more so for the fans. Athletes themselves will compete naturally. They are conditioned to yet, without recognition, some will not be as engaged.

Siya Kolisi congratulates Lodewyk De Jager during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final match. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Your fellow teammates, of course, will offer congratulations for a positive move, a big tackle, and for motivation.

Though it is unnatural for professional athletes, to feel no applause. No feedback.

You might have to jeer yourself up – put on a good try movement and what…… no clapping. That will be one of the most important hurdles for coaches and support staff to manage.

To motivate from the sidelines, to offer immediate congratulation, and to also support your team when they are down. Empty stadiums could feel like an alien space, where rugby players are concerned. Harder to ‘buoy your spirits’ so to say.

One thing is for sure; the water bottle carriers and medics will be running out with more than just your regular messages from the coach’s box. Expect an increase in inspiration, in positivity, and in making the best of a bad situation.

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Round one of Super Rugby Aotearoa:

  • Saturday June 13, 7:05pm (NZT) – Highlanders v Chiefs, Forsyth-Barr Stadium
  • Sunday June 14, 3:05pm – Blues v Hurricanes, Auckland [TBC]

 

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