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The simple secret to Spring success: Confidence

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By Elisha Pearce, Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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28 Have your say

    As the Wallabies prepare to face their toughest tour test yet, they appear to be finding a vital ingredient for winning: confidence.

    It seems odd to talk about confidence as such an important part of a professional team’s performance, but part of the Wallabies’ performance woes this season have related to confidence issues.

    You don’t stick to attacking patterns and develop a strong defensive front without confidence in your own abilities and that of your teammates.

    I can’t point to the exact moment things changed, but the Wallabies of the 2015 World Cup were confident and then suddenly they weren’t in 2016. They weren’t perfect last year, but they adopted attacking and defensive plans and stuck to their guns. They tackled like they trusted the next man would do his job, ran like they knew the next man would support them.

    The Wallabies showed great belief to win a number of close games on the way to the final.

    There is an argument that says overachievement was a band-aid over some deeper problems at the top level of Australian rugby, but confidence was one of the key ingredients in making the most of what talent, planning time and opposition weaknesses were available.

    Big Rory Arnold looking big.

    This year the Wallabies have lacked confidence.

    Their erratic play – looking organised and focused for short periods followed by longer stints of listless and undisciplined rugby – is at least partly because they are missing that mental edge.

    Against England it all got away from them quickly in three Tests, each one building on the frailties of the last. No matter how good the flashes the Aussies showed, their slumps took them so far off the boil they couldn’t stay close enough.

    The stronger opposition meant the Wallabies were never in the first two games against the All Blacks, despite again having short periods of competence.

    After halftime in the Brisbane Test against South Africa, Rod Kafer gave us a fantastic glimpse into how frail the Wallabies’ mindset had become over the first few months of Tests this year.

    He reported that the halftime talk included a reminder not to be surprised when they actually played well.

    What a strange thing to have to say – you’d never have to if the team was confident and mentally sharp.

    It might have happened during the England series, or it could have been residue from an abysmal Australian Super Rugby season, but the best players – many having reached a World Cup final – were questioning themselves.

    There were some improvements over the second half of the Rugby Championship tournament, against South Africa and Argentina, where the pressure was reduced because of the opposition.

    But the real improvement has been on show during the Spring Tour.

    The Wallabies played consistently good rugby against Wales, and could have won that game by more if they were a little more composed with their finishing.

    Scotland were throwing everything they could at Australia in the second Test. However, despite skill errors making their life harder, and silly penalties, the Wallabies actually stuck to their guns right to the end.

    That Test was one they could have lost, Scotland were ready. But the Wallabies didn’t give up, they didn’t lapse into the same aimless rugby we’d seen earlier in the year.

    The France Test was very close, and it could be argued the Wallabies deserved to be penalised while on defence at the death.

    However, despite France being robust opponents with a chance to win the game late, Australia refused to stop playing for one another.


    The game was very mistake-ridden at times, but that wasn’t a deterrent. The Wallabies kept the ball in hand and backed their skills and strike weapons. Earlier this year mistakes led to more erratic play, not more determined efforts.

    It was heartening that the wider squad players who got a run against France were able to show the same kind of determination and extra confidence the first team players had in the previous two Tests.

    So, with Ireland looming, the Wallabies are showing signs they believe in themselves more than at any time this season.

    They are sticking to attacking patterns and starting to trust each other enough to employ a rushing defence again.

    The Irish are an order of magnitude tougher than anything the Wallabies have faced on tour so far – you can’t snap an all-time All Blacks win steak without playing well – but the tourists might have it in them.

    Playing a team as good as Ireland, and knowing they just beat the All Blacks, poses a new test to the improved confidence of the Wallabies. They’ll have to step up, yet again.

    But they can look back on three clear improvements in three weeks to steel themselves.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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    The Crowd Says (28)

    • Roar Guru

      November 23rd 2016 @ 8:10am
      Fionn said | November 23rd 2016 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      I wonder if the year could have gone substantially different if the Wallabies had held onto that 3 try lead in the first England test.

      • Roar Guru

        November 23rd 2016 @ 9:25am
        The Saint said | November 23rd 2016 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        I suspect it would have been different Fionn. The Wallabies looked a team with no confidence in tests 2 and 3, after blowing a 3-try lead in test 1.
        Just as EP wrote…confidence is a major weapon to have.
        Thanks EP. Good article

        • Roar Guru

          November 23rd 2016 @ 11:14am
          Hoy said | November 23rd 2016 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          They certainly had no idea in game 2 and 3… Maybe that leads to no confidence? The amount of ball they had on attack on the English line in game 2, for zero points scored, let alone a win must have dented their confidence I guess.

          • November 23rd 2016 @ 11:00pm
            Steve T said | November 23rd 2016 @ 11:00pm | ! Report

            Penalty count against them made it hard on Wallabies in that series, just as it has impacted every side this year. Even All Blacks struggled against Argentina on the back of constant penalties in the 1st half of their first test. And before everyone goes on about ill discipline, we all know that penalties become a lottery out there. Decisions are so subjective and different refs may easily have reversed the most lopsided penalty counts. And even adapting to the ref doesn’t necessary count for much because refs, like all of us, are only human and see things and interpret things differently. Certainly all of us on the roar see the same things but have totally opposed views on what occurred.

    • Roar Guru

      November 23rd 2016 @ 9:26am
      stillmissit said | November 23rd 2016 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      G’Day mate! I normally enjoy your posts and have read them avidly over the last few years. This is not one of them.

      Rugby like many other endeavours is more to do with planning, training and getting the right people in the right place. Then they need an ability to fix the small things that the team are stuffing up, whilst not losing focus on the things they are doing right.

      Confidence comes from winning and it doesn’t matter how much you convince yourselves you are feeling more confident, that is skin deep and disappears when the opposition offer a more determined and focused attack on you and their defences stand up.

      The Wallabies need to be able to think deeper about the issues they face and how to deal with them.

      I for one suspect the improvement in the Wallabies has more to do with what Mick Byrne has bought to the Wallabies

      • Roar Guru

        November 23rd 2016 @ 10:12am
        Machooka said | November 23rd 2016 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        still… while I do get what you’re getting at, but if you don’t have confidence at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much planning et al you’ve done.

        It’s a key ingredient… no doubt made more so with critical planning, training and getting the right people.

        This to my mind is what Elisha’s article was about.

        • November 23rd 2016 @ 5:45pm
          Dave_S said | November 23rd 2016 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

          Agree Mr Chook – no amount of planning etc will help if you don’t seize the opportunities as they arise.

          I’ve heard it called a ‘bias for action’ in other contexts – the mindset that, when presented with choices, do the positive thing (eg run and pass) rather than the negative thing (take the tackle or kick it back).

          How many tries to the ABs score on quick turnover ball compared to lesser teams? They do it because they think they can.

      • November 23rd 2016 @ 7:29pm
        Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | November 23rd 2016 @ 7:29pm | ! Report

        Stillmissit, your argument is unneccesarily dualist, i.e. it’s not ‘either confidence’ or ‘plotting and planning’.
        Each feeds the other. They are not separate. They depend on each other.
        Confidence, with Latin roots, means (moving forward) ‘with faith’, trust.
        A fair intention for a rugby team, no?
        A common theme these days is that of ‘building pressure’. Enough pressure applied for an extended period erodes the confident resistance of an opponent.
        Voila! Confidence (or the lack of it) decides games.

      • November 23rd 2016 @ 9:17pm
        rasty said | November 23rd 2016 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

        That would be the influence of Australian rules footy.

    • Roar Guru

      November 23rd 2016 @ 9:46am
      Machooka said | November 23rd 2016 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      Well said that man… good read Elisha. Thanks.

      And too bloody right… as ‘confidence’, that often overlooked intangible commodity, is a key component to any team’s success. In any sport.

      Likewise, ‘over-confidence’ can destroy a team who otherwise should have done better.

      For what it’s worth I think the Wallaby, in making the Final of the last RWC, did themselves a major disservice. We thought we were better than what we really were.
      In saying that though it was a tremendous effort to go that deep, especially on the back of being in the ‘pool of death’. But sport is a strange animal at times and who would’ve thought that England, the host, would fail so dramatically!

      Therefore, when England came out to these shores with a new coach, a new system, and the result of the past RWC firmly etched in their minds, was it really surprising that they took it to Wallaby? A Wallaby, mind you that was so under-prepared it bordered on criminal.
      And before you know it England have swept the Wallaby, taken revenge for the RWC humiliation and left the Wallaby doubting themselves… big time. In shock. Doctor!

      So it’s taken medicine like what the England’s tour success gave rise to, and the usual spankings from across the ditch, to steel this Wallaby to a point where now they are starting to feel better about themselves. Know themselves. Feel confidence in themselves.

      Cue the EOYT.

      But, but… Ireland await the Wallaby this w’end. And further more those English types are hosting the following w’end!

      Win or lose the Wallaby is in a much better place. Fair to say they know who they are now… and who the others are 🙂

      • November 23rd 2016 @ 6:55pm
        Bring Back...? said | November 23rd 2016 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

        I’d love to agree but if we were to lose to both Ireland and England in next 2 weeks, can we say we are in a better place? Who have we beaten of any real note? South Africa are at rock bottom, Argentina is a team we expect to beat, Wales were under-strength and poor, Scotland and a France which has struggled since 2011. It would be nice to get a win over at least 1 of the other top 4 teams. Then we might deserve to walk with a little swagger.

    • Roar Guru

      November 23rd 2016 @ 11:31am
      Hoy said | November 23rd 2016 @ 11:31am | ! Report

      I think we were probably over confident maybe? The “win” at the WC, in so far as getting to the final, was a bit false horizon really. It did paper over massive cracks. People thought that was the end result and everything was wonderful. We certainly hadn’t played that well excluding the English game really, and a period of pretty good defense against Wales.

      Losing the three games against England was a bit unexpected I think… I don’t know anyone really thought Eddie would have made such a big change so quickly to their belief! I guess they were in a similar spot Elisha. Confidence.

      The way the All Blacks beat the Wallabies in the first two games was disappointing. It was deadest like they had never played the All Blacks, never even given any thought to how they would play. It was truly staggering to see how poorly the Wallabies played, yet again, against the All Blacks.

    • November 23rd 2016 @ 12:58pm
      Delfina said | November 23rd 2016 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

      “When you have confidence you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun you can do amazing things” Joe Namath.

      • Roar Guru

        November 23rd 2016 @ 1:38pm
        Machooka said | November 23rd 2016 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

        Great quote… thanks Delfina!

        • November 23rd 2016 @ 5:14pm
          Dally said | November 23rd 2016 @ 5:14pm | ! Report

          There are some great books by Jim Afremow : ‘The Champions Mind’ and ‘The Champions Comeback’.

          All about how great athletes prepare, think and apply their skills and mindset under pressure to be the best they can.

          Great for any player, but good for anyone who wants to make the best of themselves, whatever they do in life.

          • Roar Guru

            November 23rd 2016 @ 5:21pm
            Machooka said | November 23rd 2016 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

            Excellent Dally… much appreciated.

          • November 23rd 2016 @ 7:26pm
            Delfina said | November 23rd 2016 @ 7:26pm | ! Report

            Dally, do you know if Jim also wrote a book that helps us spectators apply their skills and mindset under pressure. Could be a bit of a market for something like this.

      • November 23rd 2016 @ 5:48pm
        Dave_S said | November 23rd 2016 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

        Yep, same as me playing much better pool when I’ve had a few 🙂

    • November 23rd 2016 @ 1:24pm
      Lunch said | November 23rd 2016 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

      Thanks Hoy, you remind me of the 2003 RWC, when beating the AB’s in the SF got us to the Final and kept Eddie Jones and Gregan in their places for far too long afterwards. We then descended into the dark years of Australian rugby when Eddie was finally kicked out and we went further backwards under Connolly and the Rodzilla experiments. If we hadn’t made the 2003 final Eddie would have gone straight away and we could have cleaned up the mess, just as the English have after been kicked early last year, ditching a useless coach and rebuilding straight away with a new coach. Having said that it seems Cheika has finally realized that he had the wrong players and has finally given some new blood a go and we appear to have greater depth. Hopefully this takes us to great wins in the final two tests, and we can repay Eddie by thrashing them to win the Grand Slam.

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