The Lunacy of Optimism
At some time, all coaches are faced with the task of getting their troops up after a nightmare performance. this was the task Michael Cheika faced last week, as he prepared the Wallabies for Bledisloe 2 in Dunedin.
Logic says that after shipping 54 points in Sydney, the Wallabies’ chance of winning in New Zealand to keep the series alive, was pretty slim. But coaches don’t always deal in logic and in this case Coach Cheika clearly planted a seed in the minds of his Wallabies in Dunedin – that seed was the “lunacy of optimism”.
The essential paradox of the fightback is that miracles happen only if you believe. Sports psychologists have studied this phenomenon, and have data to suggest that those who have unrealistically high expectations and believe they can create miracles perform better than those who think more logically. The science says self-belief bolsters performance and optimism contains the seeds of its own fulfilment.
Whatever the Wallabies did in their preparation last week, it’s clear that Michael Cheika was successful in convincing his team to believe in the lunacy of optimism.
The Arm Wrestle
Had the Wallabies scrum been more effective, it’s probable Bernard Foley’s try in the 14th minute would not have been scored. It was Australia’s third try and judging by the reaction of Michael Cheika he was not at all surprised, even though the rest of us may have been.
To be fair, Will Genia had no right to make a line break off the back of a scrum retreating so quickly. But he did and he was well supported by Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley, who eventually scored. The most pleasing thing from a coach’s perspective was the number of gold jerseys pushing up in support when the try was scored. This try put the Wallabies ahead 17 v 0 and the pressure was now well and truly on the All Blacks to respond.
The next try we’re going to look at was also scored from a scrum, only this time it was scored by the All Blacks’ fly half, Beauden Barrett.
Last week the Wallabies defended the blind side with Curtis Rona and Kurtley Beale double teaming Rieko Ioane. This week Kurtley Beale defended in the centres at scrum time and, it has to be said, he did a very good job.
However, the All Blacks noticed the change in defence structure and had a crack at Dane Haylett-Petty all alone on the blind. With Aaron Smith doing enough to hold up Will Genia at the base of the scrum, the All Blacks created a 2 v 1 on the blind side and Beauden Barrett was quick enough to capitalise. In order to stop the try Dane Haylett-Petty would have had to spot tackle Beauden Barrett. But he stayed out on Rieko Ioane and Will Genia had too much to do to stop the try. This try in the 60th minute put the All Blacks ahead and must have severely challenged the Wallabies’ collective belief.
However, it is in the crucible of optimism that the alchemy of greatness is created.
Once again, it was Will Genia’s blind refusal to accept defeat and his doggedness to ignore surface rationality that got the Wallabies back in front. His solo effort in the 66th minute allowed us all to dare to dream and the lunacy of optimism was alive and well for Wallaby supporters. If you look at New Zealand’s back field in this clip you’ll notice that Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie were defending as 2 fullbacks and Aaron Smith was sweeping behind the ruck. That Will Genia was able to find the space to squeeze through and score speaks volumes of his ability and belief.
The lead changed again twice before this final play in the 77th minute determined the outcome of the match. Clearly the Wallabies did not have a mortgage on self belief. New Zealand also demonstrated belief and on top of this they added an unwillingness to accept defeat has become part of the All Blacks DNA. They clearly share the collective belief that you never give up, you keep playing, you keep driving until the referee blows that final whistle.
Beauden Barrett’s miraculous try to steal the win for New Zealand was started by Kieren Read. He won the kick off and then a few phases later ran into a hole created by Tevita Kuridrani as he attempted to spot tackle Scott Barrett. The Kieran Read bust was finished off by Beauden Barrett after a clever catch and pass play by TJ Perenara. It was a quality play, the best of the evening and it dealt a cruel blow to the gallant Wallabies.
The Last Word
The Wallabies will no doubt be gutted by this result but as the pain drains over the next few days they deserve to feel good about the fighting spirit demonstrated as they bounced back from Bledisloe 1. Credit must go to the head coach for planting the seed of of optimism in his Wallaby squad.
It’s not easy to turn a team around inside a week particularly when there is travel involved. Michael Cheika is clearly a fighter and demonstrated his ability to coach a team under extreme pressure and without a lot of confidence. It’s easy to coach when things are going well, but it’s a different ball game when the results are going against your team.
The Wallabies now have 2 weeks to prepare for their next match v the Springboks in Perth on the 9th of September. Let’s hope they can build on this rousing performance and chalk up their first win of the 2017 Rugby Championship.
Remember boys…self belief bolsters performance!