Seven steps to glory

The Springboks have not won a Test in New Zealand since 1998. Former Springbok mental coach Henning Gericke explains how Peter de Villiers can achieve what Jake White couldn’t.

White may have a World Cup winner’s medal, but the former Springbok coach has something missing from his impressive CV – his side never beat the All Blacks in New Zealand.

In 2004, White’s first year in charge, the Boks came agonisingly close to claiming what would have been a shock victory in Christchurch. With 30 seconds to go, they led 21-18, having scored three tries to nil. But a botched line-out call 5m out from the Springbok tryline led to an All Blacks scrum from which winger Doug Howlett slid over in the right-hand corner.

In 2005, the Boks arrived at the House of Pain in Dunedin needing a win to clinch their second consecutive Tri-Nations title. With six minutes to go, they lead 27-24, only for All Blacks hooker Kevin Mealamu to be driven over from a line-out for the match-winning try.

The Boks were never going to make it third time lucky for White in New Zealand last year, after the coach opted to rest almost all of his first-choice players ahead of the World Cup. While the second-stringers put up a good fight and trailed 12-6 with 20 minutes to go, three All Blacks tries in the final 10 minutes resulted in a 27-point thrashing.

Former Springbok mental coach Henning Gericke was a key member of White’s management team during that time, and it still grates him that the Boks never won in 2004 or 2005. He believes that while they were mentally prepared for the task, they didn’t have the experience or self belief that the finished product, which won the World Cup, had.

‘I honestly believe that the Boks can win one Test, if not two, in New Zealand this year,’ says Gericke. ‘They just need to focus on these seven points …’

1. HAVE A NO-RESPECT MENTALITY
‘Springbok teams are guilty of putting the All Blacks on a pedestal and believing they are unbeatable. Don’t get me wrong, they are a great team, but we’ve shown them too much respect over the years. We now need to change our underdog mentality into a world champion mentality. We mustn’t listen to all the talk that we haven’t won there since 1998 or that we have never won a Test in Dunedin. We are the world champions and we should believe in ourselves.’

2. AIM TO DOMINATE
‘If your enemy responds to you, you are strong; if you respond to them, you are weak. The Boks must arrive in New Zealand, with the intention of dominating the opposition.’

3. PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
‘The Boks must do what they do best. The All Blacks don’t like to be tackled hard and confronted physically. New Zealanders throw 50-50 passes in the Super 14 because there’s space, but in Tests you can close that space down and put them under pressure. Playing a physical game doesn’t mean you are playing boring, one-dimensional rugby. It means you are playing clever rugby and giving yourself the best possible chance to win.’

4. HAVE SEVERAL LEADERS
‘The more the unyielding the challenge, the more flexible your leadership has must be. In 2004 and 2005, [captain] John Smit was the only real leader in the team. The Bok side of 2008 will have quite a few leaders, and that could make a big difference. Jean de Villiers was an excellent captain for the Stormers this year, while Juan Smith did a good job with the Cheetahs. Victor Matfield captained the Bulls to the Super 14 title last year. The All Blacks, meanwhile, don’t have many strong leaders, which is why I believe they lost to France in the World Cup last year.’

5. BECOME A FAMILY
‘You need to create an inner circle that creates positive energy. If you have a family environment, you will be able to handle outside pressures because you are so tight-knit. However, it may take time for De Villiers to create the kind of family vibe that we had under Jake. Look at what happened to the Bulls when Heyneke Meyer and a couple of key players left. That family structure was broken to some extent.’

6. SEE OPPORTUNITIES, NOT OBSTACLES
‘When you are in New Zealand, you must really want to be there. Embrace the people, the culture and even the weather. Go out and explore the country. If you have a negative mindset about how terrible a place it is, your game will suffer.’

7. HAVE BIG MATCH TEMPERAMENT
‘When you play the All Blacks in New Zealand, the games are going to be close more often that not. You’re going to find yourself in a situation where there are just three or four points in it with a few minutes to go. Your players have to be able to stay mentally strong and close out the game, which is what the Boks didn’t do in 2004 and 2005.’

What Peter de Villiers says:

ON THE CHALLENGE AHEAD
‘It goes without saying that playing the All Blacks anywhere is one of the toughest tests in the game, but in New Zealand it becomes even tougher. New Zealand have been the most successful rugby country in the world over the last decade, with the exception of their World Cup performances. They are true rugby thinkers and they play with supreme confidence at home, resulting in an attitude that does not contemplate defeat when on home soil. I’m not surprised at all that we have struggled there since 1998, but it should be remembered how close the Boks came to victories in 2004 and 2005.’

ON MENTAL PREPARATION
‘We will leave this country with our minds focused on the first Test [in Wellington] and the first Test only. There’s no use planning and getting worked up about the novelty of two Tests in New Zealand. The reality is one Test is played after the next, so I will prepare the squad for the first Test only. When it’s completed, we’ll reassess and then prepare for the second Test [in Dunedin].’

ON WHETHER HE WILL VALUE EXPERIENCE OVER YOUTH
‘I trust all South African rugby players, and will pick the side I feel has the best chance of winning. That doesn’t just go for the New Zealand Tests. Whoever I name in my 22 for any Test, regardless if they have one cap or 100, will have my full faith and backing.’

ON WHETHER HE’LL BE HAPPY TO WIN JUST ONE OF THE TWO TESTS
‘I am not a loser. I will never be satisfied if we lose.’

By Simon Borchardt, in SA Rugby magazine

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