Gilbert Enoka talks All Blacks 'sense of entitlement' at 2007 RWC
The year 2007 was one All Blacks fans would quickly rather forget, given the pain of a worst-ever Rugby World Cup result making for a continued Webb Ellis Cup drought, despite the dominance the team had enjoyed in the recent seasons.
When Gilbert Enoka joined the setup seven years earlier at the turn of the millennium, mental skills coaching wasn’t a thing and the stigma around the proposed role was so worrisome that he operated under the fake title of team masseuse. Nowadays, he is recognised as a trailblazer in his field.
During the recent Rugby World Cup, Enoka was the longest-serving member of All Blacks management, bringing up 300 tests against Italy in pool play.
Reflecting on the 2007 World Cup defeat, Enoka didn’t mince his words.
“We obviously went to France with a team that was in pretty good shape, we had a sense of entitlement actually,” he told RNZ. “We thought we were going to go all the way without actually having to do the work.
“My area was exposed, we choked. That was the area I was responsible for so I had to look at myself. I had to admit that I needed support in my area which enabled ourselves to develop the skillset that can actually enable the All Blacks to front the challenges they get in pressure moments like that.
“So, players took a hammering and to this day, many of them remember it, but because of the actions that occurred from that, it became a springboard into the future and I think that had a big part in us winning the next two World Cups.”
Since those World Cups, Dan Carter’s “walk towards pressure” motto has joined the many iconic pressure-related sports quotes and contributed to rugby’s overall evolution, especially in the attitude towards the Rugby World Cup as an event.
The challenge that the absolute pinnacle of the sport poses for players mentally is immense, with four years of anticipation building to an event that has only happened ten times in history. Seizing that moment can be harder than envisioned.
“Well I think back in 2007, we didn’t want to experience pressure, the mindset was so totally different, we thought that we want to play in a way so that we don’t go into pressure and if you don’t go into pressure it just means that you’re going to be in control all the time.
“One of our learnings that came out of our reflections from ’07 was that if you don’t get any pressure then you don’t get any performance, and if you don’t get any performance then you don’t get any outcome.
“And so, the mindset completely flipped on its head. So we now had the mindset that we wanted pressure. Reframing pressure to be the opportunity to achieve something great, you never achieve anything great unless you’re in that pressure zone.
“You develop a skillset that enables you to crystalize in those pressure moments rather than crack.”
Enoka himself is a fountain of inspirational quotes and was credited by Beauden Barrett after the recent quarter-final win over Ireland for dropping some words of wisdom on the team to manage emotions.
During the interview, Enoka said “Pressure’s like water, it will always find the crack.
“Failure is part of the dance, we’ve learnt that you might lose the battle, but don’t lose the lesson, take those forward with you.”