Matt Giteau may have played over 300 first-class professional games of rugby but there’s one European custom that he’s never adjusted to.
Giteau, who has often been handed the goal-kicking duties – whether it’s for the Wallabies, Brumbies or Toulon – is completely used to slotting the ball between the posts with a crowd roaring in the background, even if it’s the opposition’s supporters screaming blue murder from the stands.
Something the Australian centurion never got to grips with during his time in Europe, however, was the tradition for fans to ‘respect the kicker’ – which translates to stadiums going deathly quiet whenever the sharpshooters are lining up for a shot at goal.
“I wasn’t ready for it,” Giteau told RugbyPass about the European convention.
“When we went to Ireland, I actually didn’t know about it the first time we played a Test there and everyone went quiet. I was like, ‘what is this?’”
While it’s an age-old tradition in places like Munster, the eerie silence has descended upon many a ground in Europe, with a number of Irish, British and French teams all adopting the convention in recent times.
“For whatever reason, through my review, I hadn’t picked up any of that,” said Giteau about the first time he was forced to take a shot at goal in silence.
“When you go to training you’ve got boys screaming. You never really practise in total silence.
“I always found it pretty hard.”
In fact, it’s the size and behaviour of the crowds that 37-year-old Giteau has identified as one of the major differences between playing rugby in Europe and playing rugby in Japan, where the former Wallaby is winding down his career.
“That was probably the biggest shock,” Giteau said.
“When I first went to France, the size of the crowds and how passionate they were was incredible. And then to go to Japan…
“Sometimes I’d be warming up, passing the football and there would be no one in the stands. I’d be thinking ‘what am I doing here?’”
— Tom Vinicombe (@TomVinicombe) March 29, 2020
While there’s fierce provincial rivalry in the Top 14, it’s a completely different landscape in Japan’s Top League, with each side representing a major conglomerate.
“When you represent a company, it’s a bit different as far as trying to get fans to really get behind your team,” said Giteau. “People might drink Suntory beer but they have a Panasonic fridge.”
That all changed in 2020, however, on the back of Japan’s incredible run at last year’s World Cup.
“Since the World Cup and the success they had, the crowds have been massive,” Giteau said.
“The players have turned into superstars, they go into hiding, there’s genuinely paparazzi running around.
“It’s a great experience for them, great for the country and great for rugby – the difference has been huge.”
While the Top League has been called to a halt due to coronavirus, crowds were incredibly healthy in the first health of the season with upwards of 20,000 screaming supporters regularly showing up to see some icons of the game take the field.
Over 37,000 fans attended the January match between the Panasonic Wild Knights (coached by one of Giteau’s former bosses at the Wallabies, Robbie Deans) and the Kobelco Steelers, setting a new competition record.
Giteau is currently in his final season with Suntory Sungoliath and is hopeful that his club will get to play at least one more game this year before he calls time on his professional playing days.
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