After the Namibia match coach New Zealand Steve Hansen commented that “you have to be mentally right to perform at the level you want to perform.”
Will this be a problem in the remaining Rugby World Cup matches for the All Blacks?
On the one hand, the final result was as most people anticipated – the All Blacks winning 71-9. So, yes, granted, it could be expected that some complacency would creep in.
Hansen added “With opposition you know you should beat, players, coaches and management can get a little lost in the mental preparation, for want of a better word.”
On the other hand, the All Blacks are a team of hardened, seasoned, experienced professionals who have collectively played thousands of matches at the highest levels. Should ‘attitude’ still be a problem?
Was attitude a problem against Australia in Perth earlier this year when the Wallabies – clearly with the right attitude – sent shock waves through the All Blacks and put the Kiwis at home watching in a state of unrest bordering on panic?
We have seen a number of times when the All Blacks have ‘started slow’. But is starting slow in fact a reflection of the players’ attitude coming into the match – an attitude that is juxtaposed with the opposition’s attitude? Think of the various losses to Ireland, Australia and South Africa in the past couple of years – and how those teams’ attitude influenced the way the games were played for 80 minutes.
Is it unreasonable then to expect the All Blacks to always show up with the right attitude?
The fact that they didn’t show up with the right attitude against Namibia should be a concern. The first thirty minutes of the match was all about Namibia as they took the game to the All Blacks, who at times, looks flustered and gave away penalties.
Admittedly the All Blacks were trying new combinations with several key players being rested (e.g., Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Kieran Reid and Sonny Bill Williams), but wouldn’t that be all the more reason to front up with the right attitude and get settled?
The All Blacks led by just 10-9 at the 30-minute mark and then Nepo Laulala was yellow-carded. It didn’t seem to impact the team, only perhaps to focus their play more, which turned into two converted tries to finish the half.
The point is, attitude counts. And the right attitude will have to be there at the start of the remaining games if the All Blacks are to be Rugby World Cup champions for the third consecutive time.
The first half could have easily seen Namibia ahead, or the slim All Blacks 10-9 lead remain.
Coach Hansen noted that “The first half was not the right attitude and we allowed Namibia to partake a lot more than they should have, and that’s not being disrespectful. We came out in the second half with a lot more understanding of what we wanted to do. … It was making sure we got heads in the right space. Carry hard and hold on to the ball.”
TJ Perenara added, “regardless of the situation, we need to go out and be better than we were the week before, so the conversations at half-time were really good.” Player of the match Anton Lienert Brown said “Full credit to Namibia, they really showed up, it probably took a kick up the arse at half-time for us to switch our mindset and get fully going. They were running through us and we were passive. We knew they were going to turn up, but we weren’t there early on.”
And Brodie Retallick, who made a welcome and successful return to the playing field for the first 30 minutes before coming off as planned, further reinforced everyone’s reflections, “For Italy we want to come out firing and probably with a lot more intensity.”
Yes indeed. So true.
And in the quarter-final even more so.
From here on in the top teams will not allow the All Blacks to get back into the match. As skilful as the All Blacks are, don’t expect the likes of Ireland, Japan, England, Wales, Australia and South Africa to come into a match with the All Blacks with the wrong attitude.
The lesson for New Zealand from the Namibia match is that attitude counts. It’s an obvious lesson though – and somewhat worrisome if you think the All Blacks still have to learn it.
As for the positives from the match, there were a few.
Brodie Retallick is back in town.
He said afterwards: “It was good to get out there, I felt pretty nervous leading into it, but felt confident at the end. I didn’t want to come off in the end. I knew I was playing 30 to 40 minutes. … Nah, didn’t feel it [the injury] once, good to get a few tackles and carries, would have liked to have done more in attack but overall pretty pleased.
Anton Lienert Brown played an awesome match – he is one of the in-form All Blacks right now, and his first try where he broke through three tackles showed the quality and determination in his play.
Jordie Barrett played a fine game, his first ever as a No.10, amassing 21 points from eight conversions and a try. As Hansen commented after the match, “He drove the team around the park, and he was very good. His goalkicking after the first two misses was immaculate.”
Brad Weber, who came on for Aaron Smith after 50 minutes, again looked impressive with his pace around the field and the speed of his pass.
No serious injuries for the All Blacks.
It was a significantly better and more clinical All Black performance in the second half.
A final word, however, for Namibia.
They looked really good for many parts of the match and their first half performance showed some chinks in the All Black’s armour.
All Black prop Angus Ta’avao said it well, “They put us on the back foot, therefore we couldn’t slow them down. They kept getting quick ball, they showed they could play, ran some great lines. They showed a lot of skill and got in behind us, then put us under pressure when we had the ball.”
TJ Perenara meanwhile, added “Namibia played really well. Ball in hand, they were sharp. They defended really well, attacked the breakdown, slowed the ball down, forced a few penalties. They created quick ball, so credit to them, they played really well.”
Phil Davies, the Namibia coach, commented that he was “very proud of the effort we put in. Particularly our ball retention and line breaks in the first half. We knew we were playing against the best team in the competition, the current champions, but we gave it all we could. I couldn’t ask any more of our players. We’re very proud of them. The scoreboard looks a bit painful but there was lots to take out of the match.”
Lots, too, for the All Blacks.
And plenty of positives too if you are a potential opponent for the All Blacks over the next few weeks.
Whichever team has its attitude consistently in the right place in the first 30 minutes of the knockout matches will win the World Cup.