Little things matter most, says Bateman
If there's one thing Tim Bateman has reminded his Wellington team-mates about this week, it's that there's no need to reinvent the wheel.
Finals football has not been the Lions' forte in recent times. Last year was the first time since 2005 that Wellington missed the NPC playoffs, having lost four finals and one semifinal in between.
Bateman's well aware of his new team's unenviable record. The five-eighth was a member of the Canterbury teams that beat Wellington in the 2008 and 2009 deciders, as well as eliminating them in the 2010 semifinals.
He doesn't believe Canterbury did anything miraculous in those games, but he knows what Wellington did wrong.
"A big part of it is not going into your shell and from what I've seen, and talking to the boys about their experiences having come off a lot of disappointment in finals footy, is that they've been shellshocked. They've gone into games and 20 minutes have gone by and they haven't really applied themselves," Bateman said ahead of tonight's semifinal clash with Auckland at Westpac Stadium.
"Winning finals rugby isn't about the big 80-metre try. It's about all the little things that you need to put together to get a result.
"If you can focus on each little second within the game you'll do well. As soon as you make a tackle, that next second you need to be thinking about your next role.
"For me, personally, all I want to think about is staying in the moment, staying in that task and not drifting. If you're in that moment, you're going to give yourself a chance to win.
"You have to approach finals like you have every game throughout the year. You're going into that game to win and you're going to play a style that's best suited to helping you win. You shouldn't change too much in a final."
It's a theme that Wellington captain Jeremy Thrush has latched on to. A Lion since 2006, the lock has experienced his fair share of playoff disappointment.
"A lot of times we've tried to change things as if what we've done wasn't enough and we have to do a lot of different things to get the win. This week we just wanted to keep it as normal as possible," Thrush said.
Bateman believes last month's 43-30 loss to Auckland provided a stark reminder of what can happen when your focus wavers and you don't trust your method.
"We're a team that feeds off offloads and turnover ball and playing with confidence and if we think we've got to change that because we're playing finals footy, we're going to slip up," he said.
"Looking back to the last game against Auckland, that's how we wanted to play. We wanted to run them off their feet and it didn't happen.
"Talking to the guys afterwards, it was the same kind of feeling that I mentioned before. We felt like we weren't really in it, we got penalised a lot and we ended up playing a lot of footy that we shouldn't have been playing. It was like the game disappeared before our eyes because we didn't stay in the moment."
A second five-eighth by trade, Bateman has been something of a revelation in the No 10 jersey during this campaign. While he's running the cutter tonight, he promises Wellington won't die wondering.
"If we get an opportunity, no matter where we are, we're going to attack."
HOW THEY LINE UP
What: NPC premiership semifinal
Who: Wellington v Auckland Where and when: Westpac Stadium and Sky Sport 1, 7.05 tonight TAB odds: Wellington $1.45, Auckland $2.60
Wellington: Charlie Ngatai, Matt Proctor, Alapati Leiua, Shaun Treeby, Jason Woodward, Tim Bateman, Frae Wilson, Ardie Savea, Scott Fuglistaller, Ross Filipo, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Eric Sione, Lua Lokotui, Genesis Mamea, Kayne Hammington, Lima Sopoaga, Ambrose Curtis
Auckland: Charles Piutau, Ben Lam, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes, David Thomas, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson, Joe Edwards, Daniel Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Tom McCartney, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Andrew Van der Heijden, Sean Polwart, Scott Patterson, Simon Hickey, Lolagi Visinia
The Dominion Post