The All Blacks have long been regarded as the finest rugby union team on earth, but they also developed a reputation for being serial World Cup ‘chokers’, repeatedly failing to cope under pressure when something unexpected happened. In 1999, the All Blacks team imploded under pressure allowing the underdogs, France, to turn a 24-10 deficit into a 43-31 victory. In 2007, the French defied the odds again to beat a rudderless New Zealand side 20-18, with the All Blacks lacking such clarity of thought under pressure that they were unable to create a dropped-goal chance in the last few minutes despite plenty of opportunities.
What we did
The New Zealand head coach was conspicuously aware that the ability of the players to think clearly and correctly under pressure – and to be prepared for the unexpected – could be the difference between winning the 2011 World Cup or not. Gazing stepped in with our trademark tools and framework, which help people to think clearly and correctly under pressure by stripping away any mystique and complexity.
With the 2011 World Cup a year and a half away, the All Blacks management team, particularly their mental skills coach, enlisted Gazing directors and founding partners Ceri Evans and Renzie Hanham to develop a programme that built on existing structures to assist in mentally preparing the All Blacks – not just in readiness for the World Cup, but during the course of the tournament, too.
After advancing to semi-finals with ease and producing a thoroughly controlled performance to beat arch-rivals Australia 20-6, New Zealand found themselves once again facing France in the final. Despite playing magnificently and closing the deficit from 8-0 to 8-7 with more than half an hour remaining, the French were unable to add to their tally. The All Blacks performed with cool, calm precision, limiting the opposition to one long-range penalty goal attempt. There was no sign of the panic button that New Zealand had pressed so readily in previous tournaments. They were able to think clearly and correctly under pressure, executing the skills they possessed and doing the simple things well. They were prepared for
the unexpected and responded accordingly.
The All Blacks were, once again, the champions of the world, 24 years after their last triumph. As Richie McCaw, the All Blacks captain and anker extraordinaire put it: “We couldn’t have been under more pressure at times, but we stuck to our guns and got there in the end. I think the key [to winning the tournament] was expecting things to happen. If you hope for the best and don’t prepare for it when adversity comes, you’re not ready for it.” At the 2011 World Cup, the All Blacks were ‘ready for it’.