Top 10 Pre-match Rituals

Rugby team in huddle

Many top athletes have pre-match rituals that they go through before every encounter, either as a matter of routine or out of a superstitious belief that the ritual is essential to ensure a positive outcome. At Canterbury, we’ve put together a list of pre-match rituals performed by some of the top rugby players – compare them with your own!

1. The All Blacks

Probably the world’s best-known pre-match rugby ritual, the Haka, is performed by the whole All Blacks side prior to every match they play. This Maori challenge has been performed by New Zealand sides playing away since 1888 but has only been part of the home pre-match ritual since Buck Shelford and Hika Reid promoted it in 1987.

2. Jonny Wilkinson

Prior to running out for England, Jonny Wilkinson would always warm up, put on his shoulder pads and then his England shirt. He would never warm up in his England shirt and always wore the same tee shirt underneath it.

3. Mark Cueto

On the verge of retirement, Mark Cueto is one of those players who has a fixed match day routine. The day starts with beans on toast for breakfast. He then likes to be last off the team bus and, after putting boots on left foot first, likes to be the last out of the changing room.

4. Grant Fox

Former All Black great Grant Fox always had the same match day routine. He’d try to get the same spot in the changing room and would undress in the same order every time. He’d then put on his kit in a specific order with the boots going on last, first the right and then the left.

5. Niall Ronan

Munster and Ireland back-rower Niall Ronan is another player who likes to be last out of the changing room before a match. And, on the day before a match, you can expect to find him loading his 100kg frame with carbohydrates to give him energy for the game.

6. Island nations

The international sides from the Pacific islands have their own pre-match team rituals that they perform before each game. These are less well known than the Haka (probably because the sides are less high profile than the All Blacks.) Fiji used to perform the Cibi, which was actually a victory celebration, but in 2012 replaced it with a challenge called the I Bole. Samoa perform the Manu Siva Tau, a traditional war dance; the ‘Manu’ war chant was introduced before the 1991 Rugby World Cup. Tongan players perform the Sipi Tau, a form of cultural dance known as a Kailao.

7. Alan Whetton

Intimidating on the field, former All Black Alan Whetton had an unusual pre-match ritual. About half an hour before kick off he would walk around the pitch and touch the grass in each corner, imagining himself dotting down for a try. It may have been effective, as he scored 10 tries in 35 test appearances.

8. Olivier Merle

Former French lock Olivier Merle played for his country 45 times. In the week before each game, he would always warm up in trainers and, on match day, would only put his boots on at the very last minute before taking the pitch. His strategy might have worked because he was on the winning side 31 times.

9. Aaron Smith

All Blacks scrum half Aaron Smith has a three part pre-match ritual. He always puts on his left boot first, wears the same sweatband for every game and touches the grass every time he runs out onto the pitch.

10. Keith Earls

Ireland wing Keith Earls used to include kissing a particular group of Rosary Beads in his pre-match routine, but always worried that his play would be adversely affected if he forgot his Beads or something else he considered important. After meeting Ireland’s amateur boxing team, however, he changed and now relaxes before the game with some music, looking at family photographs and a game of handball.



Writer and expert