As defending Sevens World Series champions, and winner of 12 titles in 15 years, addressing mental attitude is not what you’d expect to see at the top of All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens’ to-do list.
But without a title after two rounds of the 2014/15 series and on the back of a 28-0 defeat at the hands of South Africa in last week’s Cup semi-final at the Dubai Sevens, it’s an area Tietjens has put under the spotlight.
“Injury-wise we pulled up fine, it’s the mental side of being beaten the way we were beaten that is concerning, but it is something that can certainly be fixed,” said Tietjens.
“I put a lot of it down to perhaps we weren’t really tested in the first four games. I think we thought the game against South Africa would just happen because we’d played so well but in sevens rugby you can be tripped up so easily.”
It’s not the only message skipper DJ Forbes and his troops can look forward to hearing this week from their coach as they prepare for the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
“We lacked possession, we lacked accuracy and we couldn’t get out of our own half,” added Tietjens.
“They outsmarted us and it wasn’t until parts of the second half that we took a couple of opportunities but they defended stoutly in the end and held us out.”
For a squad that prides itself on their physicality, Tietjens also admits they were outmuscled and outplayed by the Blitzboks.
“We were loose and they took it to us physically,” he said.
“They had numbers on us occasionally and we put ourselves under pressure.
“We didn’t support quickly enough, the ball carrier wasn’t dominating the collision with a support player. If you’re not doing that and providing better ball the whole team is going to struggle.”
Currently sitting fourth overall in the series behind Fiji, South Africa and Australia, New Zealand’s task of returning to the very top of the leader board doesn’t get any easier in Port Elizabeth, drawn to meet Samoa, Japan and England in Pool D.
“I actually don’t mind being in a tough pool because you know you have to get up for every game,” revealed Tietjens.
“Our first game against Samoa is going to be particularly tough. It’s not going to be anything like Dubai was, when we sort of cruised in there.”
But winning the mind games is where Tietjens hopes to be able turn his sides’ fortunes around this week and coming to South Africa, where they have won six of the last eight tournaments, could be the right tonic.
“Mental toughness is all about attitude and we lacked the attitude to respond when we needed to,” he said.
“I needed collective leadership at times against South Africa, certainly when they scored twice early, we needed to regroup, we didn’t do that and as a result we paid the penalty for that with a big loss.”
With thanks to World Rugby