Each of New Zealand’s national rugby teams roared back to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat this weekend. First, the Kiwis (rugby league) won its World Cup semi-final against hosts England with the final play of the game; then, the following afternoon, the All Blacks (rugby union) somehow managed to claw their way back from 7-22 at half-time, defeating Ireland in Dublin also in the dying seconds of the match. That neither side panicked when facing defeat with so little time remaining, is a sobering reminder of what is a prerequisite to prevailing in tight, tense, pressured sporting contests – mental toughness.
That England triumphed over Australia in Saturday’s rugby union Test match owed much to the players’ collective demonstration of what assistant coach Andy Farrell feels are the three qualities that separate great sides: “It’s the intent they have, their concentration for 80 minutes and their calmness under pressure” (Farrell targets autumn clean sweep and delivers warning to Australia, Guardian Sport, 2 November). These constitute mental toughness: confidence, constancy and control.
England’s victory showed that mental toughness not only separates the consistently great, such as the All Blacks (rugby union) and the Kangaroos (rugby league), but can distinguish between those on lower rungs of the rankings ladder.
In various reports in The Times (February 11, 2013), Patrick Kidd (“dogged”, “calmness under pressure”), Mark Souster (“composure”, “discipline”, “collective purpose”), Simon Barnes (“commitment”, “conviction”, “belief”, “moral cohesiveness”, “certainty”), and Owen Slot (“tests of character”, “refused to yield”, “self-belief”) each somehow avoided using the most obvious – and appropriate – adjective to describe the England rugby union team’s performance in Dublin: mentally tough. The talent is a given. But it was mental toughness that, ultimately, got England the victory.