Home support critical for All Blacks

A home nation willing their heroes to win the rugby World Cup may make the critical difference between...

The All Blacks perform the haka during their Tri-Nations match against South Africa at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on July 30, 2011. Picture: AFP

A home nation willing their heroes to win the rugby World Cup may make the critical difference between success and the five consecutive failures which have haunted the All Blacks, according to a leading New Zealand sports psychologist.

Gary Hermansson was a member of the Wellington side who beat South Africa in 1965 and the Lions the following year. He has since been chief psychologist for New Zealand and Commonwealth Games teams and worked with New Zealand's cricket team.

In a telephone interview with_ Reuters_, Hermansson said it was significant that the All Blacks, who play France in the final on Sunday, had won their only World Cup at home in 1987.

"One of the things about this tournament that is important to recognise is that we become vulnerable when we are offshore," Hermansson said.

"There has been a much closer connection between team and supporters (at home) whereas when they go offshore, us being a small nation, they feel vulnerable and exposed on the world stage when expectations are high. We get more self-conscious.

"As a nation we are fairly harsh on our athletes, we tend to be demandingly critical, you only have to listen to our radio talkback to hear that. As a nation we tend to be very reticent. When we get offshore there tends to be apprehension."

Since 1987, the All Blacks have lost one final, three semi-finals and a quarter-final even though they have usually been the world's top-ranked side between tournaments.

"As a nation we position ourselves as underdogs, we are a small country who make people sit up and take notice," Hermansson said.

HISTORICAL UNDERDOGS

"Historically, we have been the underdog and we tend to perform well when that is our position. The problem is when we are favourites, we shift from a desire to do well to a fear of not doing well.

"When that happens skill drops away, we get a bit preoccupied and we choke, we tighten up physically and mentally and don't perform well, that's been our pattern over the years and this time around it seems to be different which is good.

"If you measure the performance against the form, you recognise that there were skill struggles that went on, decision making that was atypical and the term choking is tied up with this notion of anxiety.

"Breathing gets restricted, mental functioning gets restricted, so that's what choking essentially is and all the indications have been that that's what's happened over the years."

Hermansson said in previous knockout stages, the All Blacks had started to think more negatively and self-doubt had crept in.

"That tends to create its own cycle of tension and lack of form at critical moments," he said.

"This time they have been able to hold that sort of self-affirming self-belief. Your best performances come when you are in that moment when you are the opposite of choking, when you are fully in the present, when your mind and body are working in harmony.

"It happens in life in all sorts of ways, it happen to us all but it stands out in a sporting moment."