There are a number of rugby supporters who don’t hold much hope of the Springboks winning the World Cup in New Zealand next year. The criticism of coach Peter de Villiers and several players has been harsh, to say the least, but it has also been justified: The Boks have not enjoyed a good 2010 season, losing five of their six matches in the Tri-Nations.
But more than the poor results, several senior players lost form, poor selections were made and more recently De Villiers went behind the backs of his two assistant coaches Gary Gold and Dick Muir seeking new lieutenants.
And now, a week out from the kickoff to the Grand Slam tour – which includes Tests against Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England and the Barbarians – the Boks have it all to do.
They need to show the rugby-playing world they are still among the best in the business despite their fall from grace in the Tri-Nations; the players need to prove to the doubters they are the best men to wear the green and gold and; De Villiers needs to prove himself a worthy Bok boss.
The pressure is, indeed, on.
According to Henning Gericke, the well-known sports psychologist and the man tasked with getting the heads right of the 2007 Bok class of Jake White, there is a lot to be positive about regarding the Boks of 2010 ... with just under a year to go to World Cup kickoff.
“What has happened in the last few months, with the team (losing as much as they did) and De Villiers coming under severe criticism, is a good thing ... it had to happen,” opines Gericke. “I’m not saying it’s nice to lose, but no team can be on a honeymoon for four years.
“The Boks won the World Cup in 2007, they got a new coach in 2008 and they dominated the game in 2009. It was just not realistic to think they would continue the good form in 2010 and into 2011. They needed to go through what’s happened this year to learn ahead of the biggest challenge of all ... the World Cup.”
Gericke has, during the course of his involvement with the Boks and several other provincial rugby teams, discovered all the World Cup-winning teams of the past have 10 key elements in common. “And if the leadership of the Springboks can take these points to heart then I know the team will be fine in New Zealand next year.
“Crucially, the Boks didn’t learn any lessons in 2008 and 2009, the first two years under De Villiers, as they were winning more than they were losing. But they have learned several valuable lessons this last year and if they’re able to say to themselves ‘we’re in a good space, we don’t need to be favourites now, as long as we know where we’re going’ then they’ll be okay.
“What the Boks need to get right in the next 11 or so months is the following: They need to realise that everything they do in preparing for the World Cup must be targeted towards what will be a career and life-defining moment, the 80 minutes of the final.
“It is the only thing that matters.”
Here then, in Gericke’s own words, is his 10-point plan for Bok success, discovered after conducting several interviews with an array of sporting personalities and from reading the biographies of men like Francois Pienaar (World Cup winner in 1995), Rod Macqueen (World Cup winner in 1999 with Australia) and Clive Woodward (2003 World Cup winner with England).
1 Firstly, from what I’ve picked up is that all the victorious teams at the World Cup knew where they came from ... I’m talking about a beginning. They all went on what can be termed a “journey” and they all knew what their destiny would be. Everything from the previous World Cup was designed for one last goal ... victory in the final.
2 I have come to discover these teams have all had a strong dynamic between management and the players ... the mix has been spot on. Past winning teams have been built on the family principle, where everyone has a specific role and understands that role.
3 Every single cup-winning coach has been mentally tough. Rod Macqueen and Kitch Christie both suffered from illnesses ... yet they were strong and pushed on. They took themselves to the so-called next level and right now Peter de Villiers is learning how to be tough. A coach can’t expect the players to show toughness if the coach hasn’t had to deal with it too in some form. Being able to handle the adversities and lead from the front will ensure the players follow.
4 Every winning team has displayed creativity in coaching ... none of the cup-winning teams focused only on the basics. All of them wanted to be one step ahead of the rest ... consultants and advisers joined the ranks to add value, to make a difference. Macqueen, for example brought SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis into the Wallaby team, while Christie decided to ‘run the All Blacks off their feet’ in 1995. De Villiers must now ask himself whether his team are creative enough ... where and how do they plan to outperform the opposition.
5 Success depends on meticulous planning. In 2007 Jake gave the players a 10-point plan of their role in the team. Macqueen had the “What if” plan in ‘99 ... how would the team react to losing a player to the sin-bin inside the first five minutes, or if they conceded two early tries. No successful team plans on the field or lives in hope ... they know where they are going and what they need to do. Jake White had a few issues with Victor Matfield at one stage, but they sorted things out and Victor became a key man in his squad. Right now De Villiers needs to sort out any problems with Frans Steyn, for example.
6 There has always been a special bond between the winning coach and his captain. That dynamic is crucial for success, but also between the senior players and the whole coaching staff. They need to trust and believe in each other. The character of the captain must also not be questioned ... the captain needs to be supported by every member of the squad and there should be no doubts about his worth as team leader.
7 All the winning teams have been on a different level when it comes to fitness. They peaked at the right time ... key players were rested at certain times of the season leading up to the World Cup. I wonder whether the Boks have a plan in place to rest their key men and what will be their role in next year’s Tri-Nations? It is crucial the Boks act smartly. The bigger picture (the World Cup) is what’s important from now on.
8 Another key component for success is learning from past experiences. In 2006 when we lost 49-0 to the Wallabies in Brisbane we adopted the motto “Turn adversity into advantage”. How the Boks perform now in Europe and next year will be dependent on what lessons they’ve learned from the Tri-Nations this year and last year’s November tour.
9 Winning a World Cup has nearly more to do with having the right attitude than what happens on the field. Winning teams know how to identify pressures, but they also know how to deal with them. At a World Cup you don’t need to play that well all the time as it’s not possible to be on a “high” throughout the tournament. It’s a six-week event full of pressure so teams need to break away from rugby from time to time to get fresh energy. If you’re always on the “up”, like the All Blacks often are, then you don’t learn how to deal with, and handle, the “downs”.
10 Finally, everything that is done and said by the players and management needs to be geared towards the World Cup and the 80-minute final. It is about achieving one’s destiny ... the reason why the players play the game and the coaches coach the team. All the winning teams of the past knew they were in the right space to achieve their ultimate goal.