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Melbourne Rebels' sports psychologist helping block out the noise

By AAP
The Rebels run out during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park, on February 23, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Melbourne’s Carter Gordon isn’t interested in a personal duel with Western Force No.10 Ben Donaldson, the player who usurped him in the Wallabies World Cup line-up last year.

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The Rebels were disappointing in a 30-3 Super Rugby Pacific opening-round loss to the ACT Brumbies and are out to make amends against the Western Force.

The Perth side were also outplayed by the Hurricanes 44-14 in their round-one outing

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The teams meet on Friday night as part of Super Round which features all 12 teams playing at AAMI Park over the weekend.

“Obviously there’s a lot to clean up after the first round as we weren’t too happy with how we played,” Gordon told AAP.

“We’ve put some systems into place and we’ve had a good few days of training and we’re looking forward to putting in a good performance this week.”

While new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt will be in the stands at AAMI Park, Gordon said he couldn’t look at facing Donaldson as a personal battle and needed to focus instead on improving his own performance.

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“Donno (Donaldson) is a good player and he had a good game last week for the Force, but this week I’ve just been focused on my performance and make sure that I’m getting my things right so I can put the team in the best place,” Gordon said.

“It’s important that you do your job for your team as you have no control how the other team is going to play.

“In my mind if you go out there and do your job and you control the team properly you have a good game.”

Gordon said the players were continuing to work with AFL flag-winning sports psychologist Andrew Waterson as they look to stop outside noise affecting their on-field performance.

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Waterson, who was part of the backroom staff that plotted the Melbourne Demons’ title in 2021, was initially brought in to help players including Gordon, fullback Andrew Kellaway and star signing Taniela Tupou with the fallout from the Wallabies’ horror World Cup campaign last year.

But with the financially stricken Rebels seemingly headed towards Super extinction, his skill-set is being used to help players deal with the uncertainty surrounding their playing future.

With Rugby Australia set to make a decision on the club’s future in the coming weeks, Gordon admitted that was on the minds of some players.

“There is noise there and we’d be silly saying it wasn’t on the front of some people’s minds,” the 24-year-old said.

“But we’re trying to come together as much as we can as a team and put the team first and focus on the games and training.”

Gordon said he was starting to see how sports psychology could help with managing his mind-set and improving his game.

“I definitely haven’t in the past, but I’m slowly getting into that now and I think it’s a part of my game and a part of my life I can get better at so yeah, definitely using him (Waterson) more,” he said.

“Not only myself but the whole team is.”

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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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