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Attitude and mentality aren’t the same thing.
Not even close. Attitude is the manner in which you approach something, and in rugby terms, it suggests how much intensity you are going to bring to a match.
It is easy to observe when a team comes with attitude. You can see it in their body language, their communication and their eyes, you just know it is there, even though it is invisible.
You can also see when it is not there, like the Springboks against Wales earlier this season, or against England in the last test after the series which was already won.
Attitude can be externally induced, much like a motivational speaker does with a crowd of timeshare salesmen and women.
You hype them up, send them into a crowd and keep them hyped on caffeine and clichés. Just long enough to fill the room and start the projector.
Mentality has more to do with the psychology of the brain, the characteristic of your belief system, it isn’t motivated by external sources, it is part of your makeup, developed over time due to your experiences, influences and so on.
Your mentality is your belief system.
In 2011 prior to the Rugby World Cup, Pieter de Villiers was brought in front of the South African Sports Committee, which was particularly interested in why the Springboks weren’t expressing themselves more, why they looked like they weren’t enjoying themselves and ultimately why they were failing at the time.
Pieter de Villiers’ response to them was that the Springboks had a fear of failure, so when things got tight and the weight of expectation got too big they reverted to type.
That being drawing into their shells and opting for the conservative play.
What de Villiers said made sense for the most part.
Gary Kirsten had a coaching philosophy while leading the South African team that they needed to get away from the result-oriented mentality, the regimented mentality in which South African players were used to being coached.
His belief was and likely still is, a player must focus on the experiences and processes he has that has made him successful, the result will follow if you focus solely on the processes.
When South Africa won in New Zealand there was no weight of expectation weighing them down. Their previous trip New Zealand was a 57-0 drubbing, their previous two matches were away losses to Argentina and Australia.
Rassie Erasmus himself admitted his job might be on the line.
When the Springboks finally stopped the last move of New Zealand courtesy of a desperate shot out of the defensive line by Dyanti to dislodge the ball from Damian McKenzie the weight of expectation was created.
That moment gave birth to a new belief in Springbok supporters the world over that this team may indeed become world beaters again.
October 6th, 2018.
The Springboks manage and controlled the match well, they continue to build scoreboard pressure until the 59th minute when Cheslin Kolbe scored the Springboks’ third try with Pollard converting to put the score at 30-13 in favour of South Africa.
Enter the All Black mentality vs the Springbok mentality.
One team defending a lead the other chasing it. Throughout the match South Africa hit the breakdowns at pace, this allows two things.
First, you control the momentum of the ruck, second you have a continuous flow of the ruck, the clearance and the next phase.
The defending team has lessened opportunity to attack the ball and therefore lessened opportunity to slow the momentum and flow of the ruck ball.
When the South African mentality changed over from attacking the rucks to simply retaining possession they killed their ruck momentum.
Ardie Savea immediately seized the first opportunity he could and not having been cleared as he most likely would have been just a few minutes earlier, got hands on the ball and the rest is history.
A brilliant kick to touch by Richie Mo’unga, a line out, a quick succession of rucks and the winning try was scored.
If you have the opportunity to watch the final minutes have a look at how the All Blacks used ruck momentum to score their try.
The ball carrier goes to ground and the hammers/first arrivals clear past the ball, the next pick and drive is almost instantaneous, thereby ensuring the ruck does not lose momentum, thus being able to inch closer and closer to the line on every drive.
It is nigh on impossible to defend ruck momentum, especially that close to the line.
The Springboks use a similar tactic for 60 minutes of that match, and when they reverted to type the All Blacks seized the moment, turned the tide and momentum swung their way.
There was an air of inevitability in that last quarter, and the All Blacks knew it.
It all stems from those exact processes and experiences Gary Kirsten spoke.
They chose to back their systems and their processes. One can only hope the Springboks develop that same belief system and at last break the shackles of the old regimented, revert to type mentality of the past.