Rugby World Cup: All Blacks resting heavily on mental strength after opening defeat to France

Consecutive comprehensive defeats have probably dented public confidence in another All Blacks World Cup triumph, but off the field, the players are working hard to keep a positive frame of mind, as they prepare to face pool rivals Namibia.

A record defeat to South Africa in their final hitout was followed by a first-ever tournament pool loss to hosts France, as the three-time champions now regroup to chase a spot in the quarter-finals.

Another defeat now would be fatal, but midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown insists he and his teammates are well placed to overcome any doubts that may creep into their preparations.

Sam Whitelock and Scott Barret reflect on the loss to France.
Sam Whitelock and Scott Barret reflect on the loss to France. Photo credit: Photosport

"It's incredibly important, if you're a professional athlete in whatever sport, you should be putting time into your mind," he explained. "It's something the All Blacks have done for a long time and we're very lucky to have Gilbert Enoka, who is around and does a lot of that work really, really well.

"Yes, the last couple of games have been disappointing for us, and we've got to make shifts in our game and get better, but we've stuck really tight as a group.

"Every individual has their own methods or way how they deal with losses and pressure, but we've also got support groups around us. It could be a good mate in the team and, as I said, Gilbert Enoka. 

"yes, we've been vulnerable in that space, and we're committed to not worrying about the future and what it holds, but getting better every day - that's what we can control. If you turn up every day and are driven to getting better, those small increments will add up to something good."

Enoka has been a mainstay of the All Blacks management group since 2000, when he was introduced by then-coach Sir Wayne Smith. He has previously worked with the Blackcaps cricketers and Silver Ferns netballers, and more recently, served a short-time consultancy with the Chelsea English Premier League football club.

He will not return to the national team under new coach Scott Robertson next year.

Probably the biggest letdown over those two defeats has been discipline, which is very much a mental lapse. Lock Scott Barrett was red-carded against the Springboks, after persistent infringement by his teammates and an ill-advised cleanout at the ruck.

Winger Will Jordan was yellow-carded against France for a clumsy aerial challenge and was lucky to avoid further punishment for the same offence after his return to the field.

"Last week, there were probably a few areas that have been cleaned up on, particularly around the breakdown and a little bit around discipline," acknowledge loose forward Luke Jacobson. "There were far too many penalties and it's pretty tough to play rugby, when you concede that many penalties.

Anton Lienert-Brown runs out against France.
Anton Lienert-Brown runs out against France. Photo credit: Photosport

"That's probably No.1 looking forward."

Jacobson denies their predicament brings an extra pressure to perform through the rest of their pool campaign, with world champions South Africa or world No.1 Ireland likely looming in the knockout stages.

"Look, losing's not ideal," he said. "It's not what we aim to do.

"It was an awesome stage last week that we've been waiting for for a while, but unfortunately, we didn't quite get things right. The good thing is it's a tournament and we've got more than one shot in the opening game.

"We've got a lot of time to look at ourselves and get better. I don't think it adds extra pressure, we know we need to be winning to win this competition regardless.

"I don't think a whole lot changes from now."

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