Seeking synergy in thought

Former Springbok mental coach Henning Gericke says the team will be a formidable unit once there is consensus about the style of rugby they want to play.

Coach Peter de Villiers has preached an expansive gospel throughout his first season in charge – but it is one his disciples have embraced only in part.

They are caught between the relative security of the structured approach that marked Jake White’s tenure and the appeal of De Villiers’ offering – excelling at neither and subsequently being stuck with an ugly hybrid of the two.

However, Gericke, widely recognised as one of the leaders in his field worldwide, believes the Springboks are in a transition period, and when they get to the point where they share a collective ideal about how the team should play, they will become a very difficult side to beat.

“At the moment Peter is promulgating an expansive approach and some of the players are stuck playing conservatively. That’s a challenge they’ll have to address soon or risk being mediocre in future,” he told keo.co.za.

“Under Jake all the players bought into a specific game plan. Their roles were clearly defined and everyone believed that approach would allow us to achieve our goals. The current Springbok side are not there yet. But that’s not a bad thing.

“You have to bear in mind that this is a new management group with their own philosophies about how the game should be played. But the squad has largely stayed the same from the one that Jake built from 2004. They have those disciplines drilled into them and it’s hard to make the mental shift after four years of doing the same thing. It certainly doesn’t happen in a year.

“I’m still in close contact with a lot of the [Springbok] players and the feedback is that Peter has given them a lot of backing to express themselves the way the best see fit. It’s time they repay that faith. When everyone gets on the same page with a shared vision I think we’ll see a very different Springbok team to the one we have in 2008.”

De Villiers lamented the fact that fatigue was robbing his charges of a mental edge ahead of the England Test at Twickenham on Saturday – a claim senior players John Smit and Victor Matfield rejected. Gericke echoed their sentiments, saying the challenge of facing England at Twickenham would have a galvanising effect on the team from both a physical and mental perspective.

“They’ll be under pressure to win and it’s in that circumstance that your character as a team is tested. I think that you’ll find that the character of this side is unquestionable.”

He explained that prior to their drought busting victory over England at Twickenham in 2006, his approach to their mental preparation centered almost entirely on stirring the emotional aspect of England/South Africa rivalries. Gericke showed the team images from the Boer War and used ‘Impi’, the popular song from South African group Juluka, to positively reinforce the images.

“It’s a different challenge for them now because they’ve broken the mental barrier,” Gericke explained.

“The challenge is to take their game to the next level – where we are beating teams like England by 20 points through a style of play that everyone has invested in. At present, outside of the Australia match at Ellis Park, we haven’t even come close to our potential yet.

“We’ll get there in the next year or so. I’m confident of that. And when we share the same head space and combine that with clinical execution on the field, I believe this side could be virtually unstoppable.”

By Ryan Vrede