Wayne Smith knows the extent of the highs and lows that a World Cup has to offer. Photo / Photosport
Wayne Smith is leaning into past experiences in order to best prepare the Black Ferns for their upcoming Rugby World Cup bid.
Hosting the first women’s Rugby World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere, as well
as entering the tournament as the defending champions, comes with plenty of additional pressure. However, it’s something Smith is familiar with.
Smith was part of the All Blacks during the ill-fated 2007 campaign in France as well as the successful 2011 tournament in New Zealand and has experienced the highs and lows the sport’s major tournament has to offer.
“Clearly, we learned a lot in 2011, but it’s prior to that where we learned the most,” Smith reflected.
“2007 was fairly traumatic. When we were coming home from France after the quarter-final, landing in Tokyo in transit, and seeing all the supporters coming over for the semifinal was fairly traumatic. I didn’t want to go through that again.
“We took seriously the report that came out over that and worked hard on it over the years, so 2011 was a culmination of taking stuff like the mental skills work we were doing, taking it out of the classroom and putting it on the track, and that’s what we’re going to try and do with these ladies.
“It’s all very well knowing how to calm yourself down and how to stay in the present in the classroom, but you’ve got to do it under pressure.”
Smith’s tenure as Black Ferns director of rugby has been building to this tournament. Only confirmed in the role in April, he and coaches Whitney Hansen and Wes Clarke have had a limited timeframe to establish their vision in this incarnation of the Black Ferns.
That has seen a shift in focus to a high-tempo brand of rugby, with players being encouraged to play what they see rather than trying to work to a certain structure in every phase.
The team have progressed with this style of play and have shown they can run up a score when they execute – scoring 50 points in two of their five tests so far this season. However, eliminating errors will be a key component if they are to have success when the World Cup starts on October 8.
“For me, this whole project has been about being exhilarating, being exciting and playing like New Zealanders want us to play, and taking the moment,” Smith said.
“As a coach, I’m always prepared to take the pressure off these girls and let them go out and play with joy and courage to play the game we want them to play. That’s what I’m hoping will happen; free them up .
“You can’t ignore the pressure, but you’ve got to use it to make you better. You can’t be overwhelmed by it. You’ve got to find that balance of being excited, ‘yeah, this is important, but I’m going to go out and do what we’re taught to do and what Smithy and the coaches want us to do.”
The Black Ferns will have one final pre-tournament test to iron out any major kinks, with a one-off match against Japan at Eden Park on Saturday afternoon.