Are the All Blacks too good to be defeated?

TOBY ROBSON IN ROME
Last updated 05:00 17/11/2012

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All Blacks

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FEAR can be a powerful motivation.

In the case of the All Blacks, losing is the monster under the bed, the nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

It drives them to prepare in meticulous fashion, to cover every eventuality, and, in most cases to win.

But what happens when that force is not really there? When deep, deep down the players don't believe their opponents are capable of beating them?

"It comes back to understanding, ‘look today I may not fear this opposition'," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said this week. "You always respect them, but you may not fear them. That's a dangerous thing.

"If you stop fearing something, you stop preparing and expecting the unexpected."

Hansen believes that's what happened in the buildup to the 18-all draw with Australia in Brisbane. Clandestine complacency had crept into the collective psyche.

"That was a classic case in the Aussie test. We got something we didn't expect coming at us and it became a bit of a problem for a while. That was through a lack of mental application.

"If we acknowledged to ourselves and were honest that, ‘Hey I don't actually fear this opposition for whatever reason', then it's important we use the other motivation which is your self."

It's a challenge the All Blacks will face again tomorrow at Stadio Olimpico where they are expected to soundly beat Italy on the basis of form and talent.

It's then they must draw on the second string of their motivational drive - self.

That, Hansen said, meant striving to be better than the last time they wore the jersey, leaving it better off for the next custodian, and not taking it for granted.

"Someone is always going to watch you play and it might be the last time you play."

It was a rare insight into the All Blacks relentless pursuit of perfection and why their standards rarely slip below the bar they have raised over a history steeped in success.

The vision of excellence extends beyond the playing field although Hansen will not reveal exactly "how we'd like to see ourselves as a team".

It would be fascinating to know how far that vision extends. What has been clear under Hansen is that the side is, like their coach, more open to the media.

The players are less guarded and more natural. Under Graham Henry they knew how to switch on, but it often felt like they did not have an off switch.

Whatever the case, Hansen is willing to share details of the template that's seen the side win so often.

"We work on a simple philosophy that Saturday is the day we need to have the petrol in the tank and we work back from that.

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"Gilly [fitness trainer Nic Gill] is constantly being asked and reminding us that ‘hey we need to this, we need to do that'.

Recovery has been a major part of the programme this year."

Gill's work is a crucial element because the All Blacks are aiming to play the game at a pace their opponents cannot keep up with.

It's a style that's come with errors, sometimes numerous, but Hansen is steadfast in his belief it is the right one to pursue.

"Is that really the issue of our game plan? Or are errors the issue of us not nailing it properly and not understanding it and not delivering it properly? I think it's the latter. There are lessons to be learned in those moments [where it goes wrong], but we're confident the basic type of game we want to play suits us. We're confident we have the athletes to play the game we want to play, and we're confident we're fit enough to play it at a pace that will ask questions of other people."

And Hansen promises the team has only just started in terms of what they hope to achieve.

"We've only had twelve opportunities and you don't get it right straight away. Slowly but surely, it might take us several years to get it really nailed, but what we've seen so far tells us it's worth persevering with."

- The Dominion Post

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