Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
24 Oct 2015
12:00 pm

Boks need a ‘five minutes left’ approach

Sean Van Staden

I hope you are wearing your green and gold jersey today because there is nothing quite like a country coming together to support their national team.

Sean van Staden

I won’t lie that I am not a bit nervous about the game, but in any sport, as the saying goes, it all depends on the day. Both teams have their respective strengths and weaknesses which I am sure the opponents are going to try and capitalise on.

When two teams are evenly matched, what factors are at play which allows one team to take the lead? Let us take a look at our game against Wales. The Welsh put up a mammoth fight and the Boks could just not penetrate. They would go for the run and get tackled and this was repeated throughout the game.

We clearly couldn’t get through them, but South Africa kept their composure until something unexpectedly happened. Two players went off script, according to coach Heyneke Meyer in the post-match interview, and with sheer brilliance and some luck we managed to score the winning try. You would think these things just happen more often than not, but you have to understand the dynamics of rugby.

You are getting beaten down nearly every minute of the game, but you have to get up and keep doing it again. When you are facing a tough side like Wales and no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to be working, the morale of the team begins to drop. When this happens, combined with being down on points and short of time, players begin to act and perform differently.

Stress begins to creep in. Players begin to play in a state of flight or fright; their processing ability begins to diminish because their arousal state is heightened. For untrained athletes in this state and at that level of intensity, this could mean the difference between winning and losing. Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has always been a firm believer in practicing at high intensity, especially towards the end of practice.

By pushing his players into a final “five minutes left” mentality, he gets to condition players to handle the heightened arousal levels and bring their stress levels down. The quicker you bring your stress level down, the clearer and faster you will think and react in a tough situation. When players generally go off script, it tends to end badly.

But if you have a coach and a practice environment that allows mistakes to be made without fear of ridicule or being benched, then you start to see magic happen, as we saw the other day. The secret to this winning formula is how quickly players learn from their mistakes and limited repeated poor behaviour. For South Africa to win today we are going to need some serious composure.

I predict a kicking game for South Africa because the All Blacks are tough as nails to get through, and this also means discipline in the line. The All Blacks have a habit of revving our engines and getting us to lose focus. Good luck to our Boks and let’s get behind our team in true proudly South African fashion.