Mental game as important as physical for Scots

By Gregor Paul in Edinburgh

Richie McCaw of the All Blacks talks to head coach Steve Hansen and assistant coach Ian Foster during a training session at Peffermill University. Photo / Getty Images.
Richie McCaw of the All Blacks talks to head coach Steve Hansen and assistant coach Ian Foster during a training session at Peffermill University. Photo / Getty Images.

Scotland will welcome a sports psychologist into their camp later this week in an effort to exorcise the mental demons that seemingly take occupation whenever the All Blacks are the opposition.

The hosts will also look to their Australian skills coach Scott Johnson to provide some insight into what sort of mentality has to be adopted to beat the All Blacks. Johnson is the globe-trotting maverick who, as a former head coach of Wales, once described New Zealand as a "poxy little island in the Pacific''.

He and Scotland's Australian defence coach Matt Taylor know how to prepare the underdog, sniff out weakness and get under the All Blacks' skin - skills that will be vital reckons Scotland coach Andy Robinson.

"[Sports psychologist] Floyd Woodrow has been working with us and he joins us again on Thursday,'' said Robinson. "But we have two Australians in the management and they have been involved in teams that have beaten New Zealand.

The approach they take to taking on New Zealand and the rivalry they have ... it comes through.

"What is key for us is having that belief in each other and that the players understand their roles, they go out and execute their roles and not hold anything back.''

The Scots, lovers of history and those who defy it, are acutely aware that in more than 100 years of trying, they are yet to beat the All Blacks. Such bare facts are not easy to digest or ignore and Scottish teams in the past have often been beaten by the All Blacks long before kick-off.

Robinson has named what he hopes is a side with the requisite physicality and wider skills to make Monday morning's (NZT) encounter a lively and engaging contest. The enormous locking duo of Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton have been passed fit to provide an abundance of clobber to the pack.

Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw are a talented, ball-playing inside duo and in Stuart Hogg and Tim Visser there is strike power in the back three. The key to Scotland's chances doesn't necessarily lie in selection, though.

The right bodies can be put in the right jerseys, but that won't be enough. Scotland need belief they can compete, belief they can actually win and the mental strength to not be overwhelmed by the weight of occasion should they have even a sniff of a chance to win.
Earlier this year, the Irish, who share a similarly barren history against the All Blacks, played to the cusp of a victory and then imploded. They felt the pressure, tightened, lost focus and, in a flash, felt their hearts break as Daniel Carter nailed his late dropped goal.
For the Scots to be challenging that deep into the contest they know they have to blitz the opening 20 minutes - something they have failed to do in their previous two clashes against the All Blacks.

"We know the history and we know New Zealand will be physical,'' Robinson said. "A key component for us is what happens in the tackle contest and two years ago a number of our players experienced the ferocity of New Zealand in the tackle contest and their ability to execute turnovers.

"They scored four tries when we had the ball and it is important for us that we control the ball and control the scoreboard in the first 20 minutes.''

Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Sean Lamont, Nick de Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser; Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair; Kelly Brown (capt), Ross Rennie, Alasdair Strokosch; Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray; Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant. Res: Scott Lawson, Allan Jacobsen, Kyle Traynor, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson.

- Herald on Sunday

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