Autumn internationals showed the value of straightforward thinking under duress.

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By Creative Media News

Two matches remain in the fall internationals, and what has impressed me most about the last month is the small margins – the sheer number of matches that have come down to the wire and finally been determined by mental clarity.

The frequency with which I’ve witnessed teams lacking the required level of clarity has startled me, and this is something that must drastically improve before the World Cup.

Consider Scotland’s opening autumn match versus Australia. It wasn’t a fantastic game, neither team was dominant, but why did Nic White know the lawbook like the back of his hand towards the end, while Scotland had no idea?

White understood precisely what he needed to do – get the ball off the field no matter what – but where was Scotland’s foresight in placing players on the field’s perimeters to make it so much more difficult for him?

Autumn internationals showed the value of straightforward thinking under duress.
Autumn internationals showed the value of straightforward thinking under duress.

The week prior, Wales faced Georgia. Wales had a scrum approximately 30 meters out, and based on how the set piece was going, they needed to get the ball in and out to give themselves a fighting chance. Where did the leadership team meet to ensure that everyone was on the same page?

The scrum had been under pressure during the whole contest, but if that talk took place, then execution was lacking and they lost the game. Taulupe Faletau and a swift blow were required to remove the ball from the second row’s feet. It is something Japan has excelled at when they have not been dominant.

Autumn internationals
Autumn internationals showed the value of straightforward thinking under duress.

And in England’s match against New Zealand, when Marcus Smith lined up the final conversion, was there a discussion about how to handle a short restart? Based on the varying emotions of the players — some were surprised, while others were relieved to accept a draw – it did not occur.

The next match was between Ireland and Australia. The Wallabies kicked to the corner after the game, which was a bold move, but at what point did no one inform the backs that when joining a maul, they cannot go in front of the ball?

Backs participate in mauls seldom and are not necessarily obliged to comprehend the law. Was there a conversation that highlighted a simple law or message at that time? They lost a tremendous opportunity to defeat the No. 1 team in the world.

Nick Evans always boasted about being a student of the game, and as a result, he made us a lot better team while I was playing for Harlequins. We discuss peripheral vision, but broadening the spectrum of your rugby intelligence is also important. It’s not just about how much you can see and take in, but also how much you can comprehend and predict.

And you must understand the rules of the game. At this level, it is unforgivable to fall short in this regard, and the greater your understanding of the laws, the greater your understanding of the game, because you can control it.

We saw it with Italy’s “Fox” strategy against England a few years ago, and we’ve seen it with France’s deployment of Antoine Dupont – ostensibly offside when they kick deep, but legal as long as the recipient has run at least five meters.

I recognize that there are a variety of scenarios for which to prepare, but ultimately it boils down to how well athletes are prepared in training. I’m confident we’ll see another instance this weekend, so coaches must make it second nature for players.

When the stakes are high, the match is there to be won or lost, and you’re exhausted, clarity of thought and the execution of those thoughts are of the utmost importance, as we have seen in countless matches this fall. It’s the same in the Premier League right now, with so many matches coming down to the wire, and I hope that the new format of the league will assist our players.

It is a mental skill that, like any other skill, requires repetition. Every player must be capable of performing under pressure. England played with the most freedom in the final eight minutes of the match, when they were in greater danger of losing than they had been all season.

That should have been the greatest amount of pressure they were under, but they needed the freedom that came with having no choice but to perform to succeed.

I refer to it as the penalty advantage mentality. When you have the upper hand, players may suddenly see much more clearly. They assault marginally more.

I realize the objective is that you get a second chance, but if you can teach a person, a team, or a unit to play with a penalty advantage mentality, that is the golden goose. Finn Russell has a philosophy of penalty advantage. He cares whether his team wins or loses, but the outcome will not influence his next move.

If you can feel comfortable in an unpleasant circumstance and play with freedom and execution, that’s a tremendous position to be in, and whoever masters that over the next nine months will be in a fantastic position heading into the World Cup.

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