By Matthew Burke, The Sun Herald
What’s the scarier proposition? Playing against a team wondering how good they are or playing against a team that already knows how good they are.
I ask this question as the Wallabies prepare to battle the world’s No.1 rugby team for the Bledisloe Cup.
Sometimes there is too much homework done on the opposition. Paralysis by analysis, we used to call it. It can get to a point where you can get spooked by the amount of information on the opposition.
Yes you have to have a general understanding about the opposition, but if the emphasis shifts from you to them, the balance of playing the game and having the contest goes out the window.
I mention this because of the genuine, non-plussed response a couple of weeks back from Brodie Retallick, when asked about the upcoming tour against England.
He said he didn’t know any players in the England line-up and made up a hybrid name from among the players. Essentially, he couldn’t put a name to a player.
I bet that would have got right up the noses of the English, who have been playing some good rugby of late. The comment could be deemed as arrogant and self-indulgent, or conversely as evident of an attitude that we’re only worried about ourselves.
The All Blacks – as I have been told – are all about themselves at the moment, quite insular. With responses like that it seems to be spot on.
Mind you, when you are going for a world record of wins I think you are allowed to show that degree of ‘‘I don’t give a damn’’.
It may not actually be that for the team, but to outsiders it certainly seems like that, but in saying that, I don’t mind it.
When you look at team sports, traditionally everyone tows the party line when they chat to the media.
The team did great, we all gave it our all, I couldn’t have done it without the support of the other 14 players, blah blah blah.
What I do love, but sometimes find confronting, is the way individual sportspeople talk themselves up, and they have to. It’s as much a confidence thing as it is to psych out the opposition. There are a lot of “I’s”.
‘‘I did great out there’’ … ‘‘I hit the ball so sweetly’’ … ‘‘I could believe how well it work for me’’. Maybe this is where teams have to get to, to be the best. A dose of arrogance combined with a small case of humility.
The All Blacks have it and the Wallabies in turn I think are getting it, albeit on a smaller stage.
They have an instilled confidence, direction and resilience at the moment, rounded out by good discipline. By spending more time on yourself, things will happen in a game that change the way you see an opportunity.
If there is ever a case in point at the moment, its watching the Football World Cup in Brazil. The host nation are the top exponents of this fact. They have a swagger about them, topped of with some of the best names going round like, Hulk, Fred and Neymar.
They own the game and they are telling the rest of the world through their actions.
Yet that swagger is about history as well. It’s about the players before you that have left a legacy to say follow in our footsteps. Certainly they have a Hall of Fame to call on, but there is an aura that surrounds a brand that allows you to get away with blue murder sometimes.
Looking ahead, there is a genuine excitement about the Bledisloe Cup in mid August on the strength of a 3-0 whitewash of the French and corresponding defeats by the All Blacks over England.
It looks like there are some close match ups between the two teams that has us salivating at the prospect of a competitive series.
The Aussies will again be the underdogs and no doubt that desperation to get off to a good start will be there, but what certainly helps is the home ground, the atmosphere and the fact that in the back of your mind, lots of boxes have been ticked in preparation to run out on the pitch.
Come the All Blacks next big game, I think Mr Retallick will be able to recite some names he knows well.
Matthew Burke is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.