The opening match of the Rugby league World Cup perfectly demonstrated the highly competitive nature of the sport, and there was certainly no love lost between Australia and England.
England are looking to capitalise on being the host nation to help them win the World Cup for the first time as an individual country (with Great Britain winning in 1972). However, on the road to World Cup success they will face many obstacles, particularly with regards to the two favourites of the tournament; Australia and New Zealand.
England faced an extremely challenging opening game against Australia, which required a need to stay calm, keep composure and maintain their discipline. However, tensions began to boil over in the second half, with England being the first to lose composure by committing unnecessary disciplinary offences which could face further action. Research by Jones, Bray and Olivier (2005) found that when away teams win, they display significantly less aggressive behaviours compared to matches they lose. Therefore, Australia’s ability to maintain their discipline may have helped them to win this highly competitive game.
If England are to progress to the later stages of the competition, they will need to display psychological qualities that will assist them in putting up a good fight against such competitive teams. One such psychological quality is mental toughness, which has been reported to be essential for success in elite athletes (Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002). More specifically, Golby and Sheard (2004) found that international level rugby league players had higher levels of mental toughness and hardiness compared to their super league and division one counterparts.
England will need to draw upon their mental toughness not only to bounce back from defeat against Australia, but also to prepare for their next match against Ireland. Defeat against Australia means that it is likely that if England progress to the semi-finals, they will face their other main competition in the New Zealand team.
There is a fine line between mental toughness, maintaining discipline and aggression. England need to find the correct balance between these components if they are to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
Golby, J., & Sheard, M. (2004). Mental toughness and hardiness at different levels of rugby league. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(5), 933-942. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2003.10.015
Gould, D., Dieffenbach, K., & Moffett, A. (2002). Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic champions. Journal of applied sport psychology, 14(3), 172-204. doi:10.1080/10413200290103482
Jones, M. V., Bray, S. R., & Olivier, S. (2005). Game location and aggression in rugby league. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23(4), 387-393. doi:10.1080/02640410400021617
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About Mary Quinton
I am a final year Sport and Exercise Psychology PhD student at the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences (University of Birmingham)