The All Blacks’ 27-19 loss to the Wallabies last weekend has yet again ignited the debate around the benefits of losing.
Most people tend to agree that a loss shouldn’t be a necessary aid to the All Blacks’ World Cup journey, but there is evidence to suggest it might help them secure victory at Twickenham on October 31.
It’s important to specify that it’s not the loss itself that is of value – it’s what the loss can do for any very successful team’s self-analysis of where they are at and what their best approach is going forward.
New Zealand’s dominance over the rest of the world in recent years has covered up any weaknesses or cracks in the team. Their success has also prevented the type of ruthless analysis from their coaches that a loss can lead to.
When he was playing, legendary All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick spoke of “fear of failure” as a key motivational tool for him and the teams he led. James Kerr’s book ‘Legacy’ quotes Fitzpatrick on this fascinating topic:
“As All Blacks you’re told in no uncertain terms to remember your losses more than your wins. It is the fear of not doing it properly – and what does that do? It makes you prepare properly… The key is to understand that there is a world of difference between fear of feedback or failure and harnessing that fear to positive effect.”
Purely on a motivational level a loss will have done the All Blacks camp the world of good to sharpen them up. People can’t mentally or physically peak every week as professional rugby players – and in August it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the 2015 All Blacks ultimately want to reach a crescendo in late October, at the business end of the World Cup.
Time is running out though, and one of the biggest fears the All Blacks should have is whether this wake-up call has come too late.
This weekend’s Test against Australia is the All Blacks’ final match before their World Cup campaign kicks off against Argentina on September 21. If changes are to be made they should be minor tweaks rather than wholesale changes.
It makes this weekend’s Test even more interesting. Last year the 12-12 draw in Sydney (virtually viewed as a loss by the All Blacks) was turned around in devastating fashion with a 51-20 win at Eden Park only seven days later.
If last week’s loss can be turned around just as quickly it could create momentum for the All Blacks and ensure they head to England full of confidence. Confident, but without the hint of complacency in their camp that may have been present if they’d won on Saturday night.
No one will ever know for sure how valuable the loss in Sydney was if they go on and win the World Cup.
The match’s historical significance will be much more obvious if they don’t win – and obviously if Australia use it as the springboard to go on and win the World Cup themselves.
If New Zealand do succeed in England though, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear a retired Richie McCaw later pinpointing the loss in Sydney as being just the wakeup call his team needed to remind them how painful losing can be, and how much they wanted to avoid that feeling at yet another European-based Rugby World Cup.