How the All Blacks stay on task for perfection

By Gregor Paul in Chicago

There is a concept in Japan known as shokunin. Literally translated it means artisan, but that doesn't really get across the full meaning.

Shokunin is the search for perfection - a dedication to mastering a craft by repeating the same things for life. The All Blacks are essentially trying to bestow upon themselves shokunin status.

Their performance culture is all about continual improvement sought through endless hours of doing the same thing. This is why nothing ever really changes for them regardless of where they are in the world.

Their success is built on routine - their whole mind-set driven by the need to repeat the basic elements of their individual skills and collective gameplan.

Being in Chicago changes nothing in that respect. The city is abuzz with World Series fever and the streets were filling with Bears and Minnesota Vikings jersies ahead of the Monday Night Football clash at Soldier Field, but it's background noise for the All Blacks.

But the All Blacks are here to do one job - and that is to play Ireland and try to push their winning run to 19 tests. Nothing will distract them from that. The build-up to this test will be the same as any other. They will work their way through the days like they always do, hoping that come Saturday they will have set themselves up to perform the way they want.

"It was good to get over early and we have had some coaching clinics and some time with the fans and a bit of fun at the Bulls game, but we have put a fullstop to all that," says Jerome Kaino.

"You have got to keep things the same with how you prepare for test matches and we have a routine that we want to progress through the week and it doesn't really matter that it is towards the end of our season. We have got a few good tests coming up and how we prepare doesn't really differ."

This is the message that the senior players are drumming into the contingent of youngsters on tour - to understand that repetition has been the key factor in the 18 consecutive wins the All Blacks have enjoyed since August last year.

Those games have taken the All Blacks all over the world. It has seen them play in London, Newcastle, Durban, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Cardiff and not once have they lost sight of what they must do to get the result they were after.

It is not an easy art to master and younger players with limited or no exposure to test rugby will take time to absorb the simplicity yet enormity of the philosophy.

"I think the coaches have in place for how they want to develop the [young] guys," says Kaino. "But for us who have been here for a while, it is just a matter for us to do what we do on a day-to-day basis here in All Black life. It is then up to those younger guys to watch and learn or to even ask questions. That is how they learn.

"It is a bit of a daunting time for them especially if it is your first tour, to be in this environment and we can make it as comfortable for them. They have got to try to learn on the hop."

- NZ Herald

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