Wednesday, November 26, 2014

All Blacks’ ABC

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Saturday at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff concluded a gratifying season for the All Blacks. An 86% win record across 13 tests, Richie McCaw completed a remarkable 100 tests as captain, and the platform set to take on the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. There has been a lot of press about this team, especially about their resilience and focus on playing the full 80 minutes. “If you get them fit enough and skilled enough you can play with a bit of intensity,” says coach Steve Hansen in a typically understated way. Former Scotland coach and player Sir Ian McGeechan wrote a long piece in The Telegraph about Steve Hansen and “coaching the world’s best team.”

The piece I want to call out is Hansen’s ABC and how adjusting and adapting is perhaps the most important element of what happens in the pitch. Geech asks the question “But why do All Blacks always seem to be better decision-makers than other players?” “You need some sort of structure to be able to play but at the end of the day the opposition tells you how you can play,” says Hansen. “It’s what I call ABC. You assume something through analysis. Believe nothing and go out and confirm it. So from the analysis you might say that this move might work, but it will only work if they continue defending the same way they have been. If you get out there and they have changed their defensive pattern, then the move is useless. So you need to have your players understanding why the move works and why it won’t work, so that they can adjust and adapt. It is no different from business. The people that adjust and adapt the quickest come out on top.”

Geech again: “New Zealand’s philosophy sounds little different, with the players also given a lot of responsibility.” “On a game day the players have total responsibility,” Hansen says. “At the beginning of the week we start off, the assistant coach and myself, and look at how we want to play, with some feedback from some of the specialist coaches. We will take that to what we call a strategy group and then we dovetail that in together and say: ‘Right, this is how we want to play this game.’ We build the understanding of that through the week, using the ABC. By Thursday the team run is about introducing some real intensity into that process and then on Friday I don’t even get changed. The captain takes that and then Saturday is all about the players only. It’s total ownership. All I’m doing is observing and trying to help find the ABC if they are not seeing it.”

My old school mate (aka Old Maestro) and co-founding father of The Old Lancastrian Black Sheep Club, Brian Ashton, follows an ABC mantra too. His ABC is all about Ambition, Belief and Courage – something the AB’s have in spades. I’ve told Brian he was born in the wrong country!!

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