I played New Zealand many times. I lost to New Zealand many times. I came close to beating New Zealand several times. But I didn’t. Looking back we lost those close games in the mind. There were games when I don’t believe that every member of our squad genuinely thought we would win. That small element of doubt is all that is required to give New Zealand the advantage. Other times we were in a position to win but we lost that mental focus and clarity at crucial times. We all know Scotland will need to be strong at the breakdown, secure their own set piece, take their opportunities and limit New Zealand’s chances. But where they need to be really at the top of their game is in the mind. Let’s look at mental preparation.
Scotland have never beaten New Zealand at 15 a-side rugby. So what. That only has a bearing on this game if Scotland let it. In 2014 Scotland had a chance to take the lead going into the last few minutes. They ended up losing 24 – 18. Would a different mindset mean a different result? I think it may have done. The All Blacks selected a weakened team three years ago and Scotland had an opportunity. I don’t think they will do that again because they will be concerned of what Scotland are capable of. This should boost Scottish spirits.
To have any chance of victory the entire 23 members of the team must believe they can win. For the full 80 minutes. There will be times when New Zealand have momentum, they will score points, but Scotland can not let their belief waver for even a second. This Scotland team has the potential to cause New Zealand all sorts of problems. Yes they have to take the chances they create, but they have to believe that they will win.
The All Blacks are relentless. Their game is executed at pace from minute 1 to minute 80. Scotland will need to match this physically. I have no doubt they can. But they also need to match it in the mind. One lapse of concentration and you will be punished. Whether that is not scoring when you create a chance, or missing a tackle because you are not in the correct position in the defensive line.
It will not all go Scotland’s way and they must remain focused during periods of All Black dominance. Show resilience and know that nothing needs to change when Scotland reassert their control.
The pressure builds as the game goes on, but so does fatigue. Scotland will be stressed and they need to maintain absolute focus no matter what pressure, what adversity, what challenge is presented to them.
Clarity of Thought
When under pressure it is so important to maintain clarity and be decisive. The slightest hesitation will be seized upon. A chance will be missed or a score conceded. Scotland don’t need to change their tactics to beat New Zealand. What they must do, is be totally clear in what they are doing. The New England Patriots mantra is Do Your Job. If each Scotland player knows what they should be doing and executes they will be a long way towards defeating New Zealand.
The All Blacks are an outstanding team. I think they have the edge on most teams in the psychological battle. However I think the Lions and Australia have shown their are chinks in their armour to exploit. To do this, Scotland must be resilient, relentless and believe they can beat New Zealand. Maintaining that mental strength in the face of an onslaught is not easy. But this Scotland team have the rugby to beat the All Blacks. Do they have the top two inches?
Colin is a performance consultant who can improve teamwork, leadership and wellbeing for your business. He is also rugby analyst for BBC Scotland. You can listen to Scotland v New Zealand on Radio Scotland from 17:00 on Saturday 18th November.
Images from Scotland’s number one rugby photographer, Craig Watson. For more images and info, check out his website: www.craigwatson.co.uk