Sunday, September 02, 2007

All Blacks are having fun in Corsica. Match vs. Italy is in 5 days...

Lovely rugby fans descend on Marseille
By ADRIENNE BOURGON - Sunday Star Times
Sunday, 2 September 2007

Rugby-mad Marseille awaits the All Blacks with hordes of clean, polite fans assembling for the World Cup kick-off.
Fresh from two days of relaxation at Porticcio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, they will be officially welcomed in on Sunday afternoon at the city's town hall, the Hotel de Ville, before transferring to their luxury hotel, the Sofitel Palm Beach, south of the city centre.
Training will take place at the nearby Jean Bouin stadium, recently renovated by the city, which has spent (Euro)11 million ($NZ21.3m) preparing to host the six-week tournament.
Flags and posters of the world cup rugby-ball logo are starting to appear in the streets of Marseille, gearing up to welcome 500,000 visitors during the competition. Six of the 48 matches will be played at the Velodrome Stadium, known for its charged atmosphere and enthusiastic crowd, which was not disappointed when the French team beat England 22-9 in their second warm-up match two weeks ago.
Tourist Office director Maxime Tissot told the Sunday Star- Times that around 150,000 foreign supporters were expected, with large numbers of New Zealanders arriving by train or charter flights from London this week.
Tickets to the New Zealand- Italy pool game next Saturday at the 60,000-seat stadium have sold out, but the match will be broadcast on giant screens at the famous Vieux Port and in bars and cafes around the city.
Although rugby fans were known for drinking just as much as their football counterparts, Tissot said there would be no hooligan culture associated with football and evidenced by violent clashes between bottle- throwing English and Tunisian fans at the Football World Cup, co-hosted by the city in 1998.
"Rugby fans are different. They are clean and polite, and not out to break everything so I have no worries on this score."
Marseille was used to hosting major sporting events, he said, adding that rugby did not have the same budget or impact as football, perhaps explaining the low-key feel to the city and a visible lack of rugby regalia a week before the tournament.
One bar manager doing his best to revive the southern rugby culture is Lionel Tonini, who is organising "La rue du rugby" in the Rue Venture, a short walk from the Vieux Port.
The former rugby player and manager of the Little Canterbury bar and restaurant is bracing himself for a 40-night- long bodega party in the street, which will be closed to traffic and lined with trestle tables selling drinks, paella and plates of tapas.
"We want to create a friendly place where people can come watch the matches and talk about rugby."
La Samaritaine cafe manager, Ernest Zutta, said he was anticipating an influx of customers during the world cup, and he had taken on several extra staff to cover the busy periods.
The All Blacks were a team of "extraordinary quality" and he said it would be a great pleasure to welcome their supporters to his cafe, which is one of the oldest at the Vieux Port.

All Blacks go totally mental

Gilbert Enoka calls it bitter medicine and the aftertaste is still burning away in the mouths of the All Blacks and their fans from four successive World Cups where New Zealand has failed to bring home the silverware.
Perhaps only the 1995 final loss to South Africa could be excused. But the semifinal defeats in 1991, 1999 and 2003 were recurring nightmares where All Blacks teams failed to react to their deteriorating situations and were overwhelmed by opponents who brought them down with a mix of passion and precision.
The lack of a plan B to counter their faltering games was cruelly exposed. Gloating opponents even stuck that cruel sporting term "chokers" on a team that were regular favourites for the title but regularly failed to deliver.
And now, as the All Blacks settle into the 2007 tournament in France, the question has to be asked: Does Graham Henry's squad have the intelligence to go with their undoubted skills? Can his players react on their feet and right wrongs in the heat of battle? Do they have the ability to get out of jail?
Senior All Blacks are unanimous that this side has the mental strength to survive. Anton Oliver, part of the 1999 disaster against France, is adamant about that. Byron Kelleher who endured the pain of 1999 and the 2003 loss to Australia agrees. So do Leon MacDonald and Mils Muliaina, who are among 15 survivors in this 30-man squad from the shambles in Sydney four years ago.
And, importantly, Enoka senses real growth in the way these players use their top two inches.
Don't call Enoka a "shrink" because technically he isn't a licensed psychologist. In the All Blacks' massive management group he goes by the job description of "mental skills coach". A part-time employee for Wayne Smith's All Blacks sides in 2000 and 2001, he's had a full-time role for the past four years as Henry placed equal importance on the mental elements of the game to go with physical fitness and skills work.
So Enoka is carrying as much pressure and responsibility going into this campaign as anyone in the 49-man touring party. It's reassuring to hear his confidence then, even as we contemplate last year's hiccup against South Africa in Rustenburg and the more recent loss to Australia in Melbourne that brought back a few jitters to us all. In Enoka's mind, the mess in Melbourne might turn out to be the defining moment this year - the time when a seemingly unbeatable side got a wake-up call.
"It's a bitter medicine really," he says of the 15-20 defeat to the Wallabies at the MCG. "Medicine is generally good for you and this tasted bitter in the moment. But when we reflect back on that I think we will find that will have been a significant moment in this year's campaign. We came out of that much stronger than we had been."
And strength has been his aim. A strong mind is as important as a big bicep.
"We send people off to the gym three times a week to work on their muscles to gain strength and aerobic abilities. I have had a chance now to work in much the same way with the players in relation to the mental game.
"We highlighted back in 2004 the key issues with this team were mastering some of those moments - the self-reliance and the ability to deliver their best when it matters most. The programmes involve developing them as people as well as giving them skills that will enable them to access their talents in the heat of the battle.
"Previously we expected the All Blacks to have their mental game nailed just because they were All Blacks."
Enoka works with players individually and collectively. He stresses he isn't a motivator. That is left to the players and the coaches.
"None of these guys have any problems with their own motivation, self-direction and drive.
"My job is giving them a skills base that they can actually use to access their skills in the moments when it matters most. We have made good ground in that area - you can't even compare where we are at now compared to when I worked with the All Blacks in 2001."
A lot of Enoka's systems are simply about making the All Blacks realise who they are and why they are. It's also about thinking in the present and dealing with current problems and the next solution without getting too far ahead of themselves and starting to contemplate finals and trophies.
Technically, it's called process thinking. It's also about eradicating negatives and replacing them with positives. And, to his thinking, there are far too many negatives associated with New Zealand's World Cup history to bog down this team.
"You hear people talk about the All Blacks of the past 20 years and that we have stumbled at the semifinal stage. We have got to get these guys thinking that they aren't the All Blacks of the past, they are the All Blacks of this current generation. We have taken the rich traditions of the past but we have put in training programmes and preparation regimes to enable them to do the business now.
"The times when you struggle are when you get to a moment and you can't stay in control. We have been training these guys to identify situations when they haven't got something to go to that enables them to be in control. If you have always got something to go to, then you can stay in control and if you can stay in control of a situation then more often than not you will master it.
"What has happened in the past, like when we played Australia in the last world cup, was that we basically got exposed to situations where people didn't have anything to go to. We got stuck and when you get stuck you can't control the situation. Before you know it the game is over."
MacDonald was there and believes the experience factor should not be underestimated in this squad. "We have a lot of leaders in the team in key positions and in those big games, when it comes to the crunch, that is what is going to be needed - those guys standing up and leading." he says.
But can they react when necessary? "I think so. I hope so. We have spent a lot of time analysing games and I think there have been a lot of games in the past few years where it could have gone either way and we have won most.
"Yes, we have lost a couple but it's how you learn from those. To lose in Melbourne and Rustenburg - we know that if we don't prepare well and we don't turn up on the day we will get knocked over. They are still fresh in our minds and we are taking them away with us to the world cup to make sure it doesn't happen there."
Muliaina agrees: "Although you don't like to lose, Melbourne was good for us. We'd had things sweet, we had won test matches we shouldn't have won. So it was a bit too easy and that was a real wake-up call.
"I think it has motivated the boys a lot more. It was what we needed - a kick in the bum and let's move forward."
But Muliaina is still prepared to look back and dwell on a bit of cup agony.
"You are right about a lack of plan B. In those games, you think 'what the heck is going on?' In 2003, before we knew it, the game was over and there's your chance gone.
"With this current team we are fortunate that it was in Melbourne and not in France. But I think we have fundamentals together so that we can combat those things. We have a specific game plan but then if it's not all going, well, just things like getting into a huddle and talking about it. That's something we didn't do in 2003 - talking about what was going on and what we are going to do to fix it.
"I definitely think we have come a long way from that."
Kelleher knows the experience factor is crucial and believes the senior players have spread the word: "Collectively we have got plans in place to make sure we are all reading off the same page and heading in the same direction. Previously, in '99 and 2003, we didn't do that.
"There is a lot of clarity in the team at the moment. The guys are communicating well. The character in this team is very strong and that's what is going to pull us through."
And the final word to the team's elder statesman, 31-year- old Anton Oliver.
"People have labelled the All Blacks chokers because of 1999 and 2003. I don't think we so much choked - we were just a bit blase or perhaps complacent is the better term.
"The players know what it takes to get past that stage now. Experience is something you need even if the experience is painful."
Let's hope the bitter taste of previous World Cups can turn into the sweet smell of success this time.

Thank you Chill for the links and to all the RGs for the pictures.
I have created a new video but it's not online yet so...

I will publish my first World Cup blog in French & in English tomorrow (French time)
I will publish the link here -but you will have to read my other blog to have the whole story ;)


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