The old cliché suggests that body language in sport doesn’t talk. It screams.
So it is that we learn England’s rugby players have decided to sort out the way they present themselves to the world.
Fewer than four months ago, skipper Owen Farrell was widely felt to have got it all wrong ahead of the World Cup final against South Africa.
At the pre-match coin toss, Farrell could be seen looking at the floor while South Africa’s captain Siya Kolisi stared into the Englishman’s eyes before engaging with the referee. When the issue was concluded, Kolisi led the way back towards the dressing rooms, dominating the situation.
In a perceptive analysis, former Springbok attack coach Swys de Bruin argued the pre-match exchange had a huge bearing on the way the final went, saying: “These little things are massive.”
The coin, so to speak, appears to have dropped in the England camp, with an increased emphasis on such matters during this Six Nations and ahead of the match with Wales at Twickenham a week on Saturday.
Hooker Jamie George said their new secret weapon had been used to good effect for the visit of Ireland last weekend.
“Owen Farrell talks about it quite a lot — your body language, the way you talk, how you talk, how you walk off the bus,” the No. 2 was quoted by the Rugby Pass website as saying.
“All these things matter.
“If you’re walking off the bus…say I’m there on Instagram, then I’m clearly not there with my game head on, you know what I mean.
“It’s not fake, either. It has to be genuine.
“People are different, too. Someone like Courtney Lawes is a bit more laid back than George Ford is, but at the same time, you know what people’s boundaries are.
“We are putting an emphasis on body language and being in a better place — giving off stuff not just to the opposition but to the media, each other, the crowd.
“It’s a different way of thinking about it, but it’s seemingly putting us in a better place.”
Psychological warfare isn’t new in rugby — far from it.
Cut to Rodney Parade on Halloween afternoon in 1989, when Newport’s players prepared to face the New Zealand haka . Except they opted not to face it, instead heading deep into their own half and turning in on themselves in the form of the tightest huddle.
The All Blacks’ captain Wayne Shelford promptly led his players after them.
The following season’s Rugby Annual for Wales noted: “So the tourists roared their Maori challenge 10 yards from the club side, who had retreated before play had even started — and kept on retreating from there on.”
Newport were crushed 54-9.
Maybe they would have been hammered whatever had happened in the seconds before kick-off, but their actions that day were widely seen as not helping.
Rewind even further to a pre-game exchange between the fearsome Brian Thomas of Neath and Phil Bennett back in the day.
“When I was 19 I captained Llanelli against Neath at The Gnoll. Nobody liked to visit Neath. Along with Pontypool they were the hardest bunch in the country,” Bennett recalls in his book, Phil Bennett, The Autobiography.
“Brian Thomas was an enormous man who knew the effect his presence had on young 11-stone flyweights like myself. He came over to toss the coin before kick-off and stood there almost blocking out the light, with a huge black eye, somehow sustained in his own dressing room.
“He looked down at the Llanelli captain and laughed in my face. ‘You! What’s wrong? Have Llanelli run out of grown men to captain their team these days?’
“I felt intimidated and not surprisingly we lost the match.”
An alternative take on that story, which has perhaps been twisted with each retelling at The Gnoll, is that Benny knocked on the Neath dressing room door with the referee only to be confronted by Thomas, who looked as if he had just learned that a lorry had driven over his new car.
Told the visitors had come about the coin toss, the big man is said to have roared at Bennett: “We’ll kick off and play with the wind in the first half, and if you don’t disappear we’ll do the same in the second half as well.”
Only he used rather more forceful words.
There’s also Scotland’s famous walk onto the pitch before they defeated England in an epic encounter at Murrayfield in 1990.
England are only going where others have trodden before in trying to gain a psychological edge.
It’s up to the opposition to impose themselves on the situation through the quality of what they offer. “Every fighter’s got a plan until he gets punched in the mouth,” Mike Tyson once said.
No amount of opposition mind games would have fazed Tyson in his prime.
Ultimately, the priority for Wales on March 7 will be turn up and play to their potential.
Do that and they’ll stand a chance, whether English players avoid Instagram as they climb off their team bus or not.