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The story behind the All Blacks' Haka ritual

History books show that New Zealand's nail-biting 8-7 victory over France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final was won with a try from prop Tony Woodcock and a penalty from replacement fly-half Stephen Donald. But that is only half the story.

Donald's kick did give the All Blacks some priceless breathing space and ensured that a subsequent try from France's Thierry Dusautoir - converted by Francois Trinh-Duc - would not be enough to deny the hosts a long-awaited second World Cup crown.

But in truth their victory was secured thanks to an outstanding defensive display from a physically drained, but mentally sharp, All Blacks side.

They starved their French rivals of time, space and opportunity throughout the last 33 intense and enthralling minutes until the final whistle brought joy to an entire nation.

That awe-inspiring display of mental fortitude was the manifestation of the All Blacks' dedication to making sure every aspect of their preparation was perfect. This enviable characteristic was evident long before a ball was even kicked on that memorable night at Eden Park in Auckland.

Yet it might have been so different. In 2004 senior players were concerned that they no longer had a connection to the 19th Century war cry. However rather than ditch the Haka entirely, the All Blacks chose to revisit the text and work out how they could once again engage with its original meaning.

With the blessing of the Ngāti Toa tribe, to whom the original Ka Mate Ka Mate Haka belongs, a new Haka was written with the help of Maori culture experts.

The All Blacks intimidating the opposition through the traditional Haka tribal dance
The All Blacks intimidating the opposition through the traditional Haka tribal dance

The ambition was to convey what it meant to the players to be not only an All Black but also a New Zealander. The result was the Kapa o Pango - loosely translated as Team in Black.

Celebrating the nation itself, its silver fern emblem and its warriors, the new Haka expressed the team's identity, acknowledged their history and revitalised a pivotal part of their preparation.

A refocused squad embraced the new Haka, featuring lines such as: ''This defines us as the All Blacks! It's our time! It's our moment!' And it was this version that opened proceedings ahead of their showdown with France four years ago.

If playing in front of an expectant rugby-mad nation - "a stadium of four million people" was not enough to test the All Blacks' ability to handle the pressure of the occasion, France turned up the heat a little more in the countdown to kick-off with their decision to conjure a controversial retort in direct response to the Haka.

Led by captain Dusautoir, they linked arms in an arrow-like formation hoping to splinter their rivals, both physically and mentally, and marched forward, as they would, figuratively, throughout the game itself. The mesmerised crowd were whipped into a frenzy.

Graphic with All Blacks quote from Haka

But it was a challenge for which the All Blacks were prepared, having learnt from painful previous World Cup defeats at the hands of the French in 1999 and 2007, and enduring six weeks of intense media scrutiny throughout the tournament up to that point.

New Zealand's desire not only to acknowledge where they come from but to proclaim who they are, with their re-working of the Haka, forms part of what the All Blacks call their "bone-deep" preparation that gives the players the confidence to play and express themselves.

The power of such an approach is evident in the performance of the collective, but the responsibility falls on each individual - from player to coach to management - to understand his role and be ready to perform.

The All Blacks set the standard when it comes to being a team - both on and off the field. They may have a squad blessed with unrivalled individual talent, but ego is left at the door. Each player takes turns sweeping the changing room clean after games to remind them no- one is bigger than the collective team.

The driving force behind this winning mentality is not head coach Steve Hansen or inspirational captain Richie McCaw, but the man whom both hail as the glue that binds the All Blacks: mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka.

At this elite level of the game, it is not a player's ability that distinguishes him but his capacity to deliver under pressure. Enoka sees it as his responsibility to equip the All Blacks with the tools to perform in the white heat of action.

"Bert", as Enoka is known within the squad, has previously highlighted how pressure can cause players to think less and rely instead on instinct and emotion.

During intense play, players struggle to process the information required to make good decisions and, as a result, put themselves at risk of making mistakes - a poor pass, missed tackle or even risking injury through bad technique.

Gilbert "Bert" Enoka, the All Blacks' mental skills coach
Gilbert "Bert" Enoka is the driving force behind the All Blacks' winning mentality.

The challenge for players is to stay fully focused and achieve a clear and attentive state of mind so they can make the best possible decisions during the game. If they are distracted by stress or anger, they become in danger of reacting emotionally which can induce poor decision-making and impact their play.

The key to remaining calm and in control, according to Enoka, is to stay "connected" to the here and now, focusing on the task at hand, not on the outcome. To help achieve this, players are encouraged to adopt techniques to help anchor themselves in the moment. McCaw would stamp his feet as a physical trigger for his brain, Brad Thorn would throw water over himself and Kieran Read would stare at the furthest point in the stadium.

Thinking clearly and correctly under pressure, means a player will be aware of their surroundings and mindful of where their team-mates are at all times. It helps players optimise their performance and decision-making abilities. This approach, combined with the All Blacks' outstanding individual levels of skill, creates the blueprint - or should that be 'blackprint'? - for global success.

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