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'The bus was deadly silent': Beauden Barrett talks ruthless quarter-final edge

By Ned Lester
Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Italy at Parc Olympique on September 29, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Reflecting on the All Blacks‘ quarter-final preparations, Beauden Barrett has offered some insight into what contributed to New Zealand’s most clinical performance in recent memory.

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Following in the footsteps of the great Dan Carter, who famously championed the “walk towards pressure” mantra, Barrett and the All Blacks have a powerful history of mental skills and performing under the brightest lights in the rugby world.

The man who has driven those mental skills for the past 23 years is Gilbert Enoka, with assistance from Ceri Evans since 2010. Now, in his final Rugby World Cup with the team, Enoka’s influence is as crucial as ever.

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Four years of underwhelming results since a semi-final exit at the 2019 World Cup put huge pressure on the team to perform against the world number one ranked Ireland. Luckily for the All Blacks, pressure is Enoka’s bread and butter.

“So much goes into a week in terms of preparation and how well you do that, it’s evident on the weekend,” Barrett told The Front Row Daily Show.

“But, there’s certainly some gold nuggets with Ceri Evans and Gilbert Enoka in the mental space that was right on the money. With that, as well as the physical preparation, the boys were all in a good space going into the game. The bus was deadly silent and Gilbert has a good gauge on whether we’re in the house or not, and postgame he said he could feel it.

“That’s where we strive to get to every game day but it was win or go home, it’s do or die footy, there’s something about that as well and we wanted another week. So, here we are.”

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When Enoka started out with the All Blacks, he was assigned the job title of team masseur, a disguise for his true role which was as the team’s sports psychologist. The decoy title was employed because it was thought the use of a mental skills coach would project an inherent weakness in the team.

That stigma has since slowly eroded and sports psychology is now an essential component of any professional team.

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Having earned a spot in the next round, the All Blacks are now shifting their focus to a familiar opponent in the semi-final.

“There’s still certainly a buzz around the camp. We’re kind of in that transition phase now. All eyes on (Argentina).

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“We’re just so grateful to be here and have another opportunity. It’s a final again for us, it’s win or pretty much go home so there’s a good buzz.

“We put so much into last week, a team that had scarred us in recent times so we felt like we needed to do it for ourselves to prove a point.”

Team Form

Last 5 Games

3
Wins
4
2
Streak
1
17
Tries Scored
36
37
Points Difference
193
2/5
First Try
5/5
3/5
First Points
3/5
2/5
Race To 10 Points
4/5

Barrett made no secret of his desire for revenge against Ireland after the famous Steinlager Series loss last year, and following the quarter-final win the fullback emphasised the importance of celebrating the achievement before looking ahead.

Having fully digested the win, the All Blacks now find themselves ready to focus on the task at hand.

“It’s something we spoke about in the leadership meeting, it’s about genuinely resetting and identifying the threat that’s in our way this week, Argentina.

“We know what they can do, we felt that particularly in Christchurch last year. We know how passionate they are, we saw that in the Welsh game.

“They’re a team that have been under the radar but I think early in the week, we focus a lot on our detail but that’s also defensive detail so understanding what they bring, their threats, they are real threats, they’re genuine.

“And it’s a short turnaround so it’s a busy couple of days getting that prep but late on in the week we just want to dump and play footy.”

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