"History is so beautiful, but at the time we're living it, we don't realize it." Mohammed Ali
After the England rugby union team’s historic defeat of the Wallabies in the test series in June 2016, there was a lot of criticism of Michael Cheika’s coaching style and strategy.
Now, I love Michael Cheika and Australian rugby (union). There, I said it. My cognitive bias is out in the open! But even if you don’t like rugby, this test series was an interesting insight into how easy it is to win the greatest game of all – the mind-set game.
In this article I will show how Eddie Jones (England’s new coach) out-thought, out-maneuvered and KO’d Australia. And how Australia held themselves back with their own belief structures - and the arrogance that those belief structures engendered.
From my perspective the arrogance of the Australian approach wasn’t intentional. It was a simple belief structure that seemed positive, but ultimately undid them. It went like this: “We are better than them. We believe”.
“The key to success is not simply effort or focus or resilience, but it is the growth mindset that creates them. The mindset itself is critical.”
From the field of NLP, we know that beliefs are simply generalizations, based on past experiences. It is precisely because of this that these structures come from an immature version of us. We also know that beliefs are commands to the nervous system – creating cognitive biases that filter in and filter out information about reality.
Eddie Jones was counting on that...
Using Cheika’s inspiration against him
It was well known in rugby circles that Michael Cheika was a huge fan of Mohammed Ali.
He regularly used Ali’s sayings to help forge a stronger team identity.
More recently, following Ali’s death, Michael Cheika referenced Ali’s passing as motivation for his team, saying: "Obviously, from our point of view, we'd like to let his family know that our thoughts are well and truly with them. And I'll tell you why... we, like many sporting teams around the world, have used that man as inspiration, with motivational videos, posters that go up on the wall, in phrases and sayings that he's used."
In my opinion, Eddie Jones not only knew this, but used this knowledge as part of his strategy.
So, let’s go back to George Forman Vs Mohammed Ali in the Rumble in The Jungle in October 1974, when Ali landed the straight right–hand punch that knocked out George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire.
Ali's tactics have gone down in boxing folklore.
He largely lay on the ropes and allowed Foreman to punch himself out. But equally important was the aggression he showed early in the bout.
D'Amato, a mentor of Ali’s, told Ali the night of the bout that Foreman was a bully and that it was imperative that Ali threw his first punch with "bad intentions" to make Foreman's strength his weakness. "Fear is like fire, it can burn your house down, or it can cook your food," D'Amato told Ali.
Mohammad Ali taunted Forman in interviews, at the weigh in and most of all during the fight, with phrases like, "They told me you could punch, George!" and, "They told me you could punch as hard as Joe Louis.”
According to Foreman: "I thought he was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: 'That all you got, George?' I realized then that this ain't what I thought it was.”
In the 8th round, Foreman, a giant compared with Ali, was dismantled. Ali pulled together a devastating 5-punch combination, culminating in a left hook that brought Foreman's head up into position, and a hard right straight to the face that caused Foreman to stumble to the canvas. He was beaten. The rest is history.
The Aussies got Mohammed Ali’d
Back to Michael Cheika, and his old mate and former club teammate Eddie Jones. Eddie taunted Cheika in the lead up to the rugby test series saying, "We've got to take a side down there to play Bodyline"- a reference to the infamous 1932-33 Ashes series.
But Cheika resolutely chose not to take the bait, being happy to leave Jones to play mind games in the media.
Sounds OK so far right? Far from it.
England hit Australia where it hurt – with immaculate defense.
In game 1, England dominated the set pieces and tackled ferociously, forcing Australia into making mistakes – creating a perfect storm with the referee. The referee got in the Australians’ heads and the English applied the pressure in the tackles and scrums. England won the first game 39-28.
It’s my mind read that Michael Cheika was angry and a little ashamed by the loss, after being awarded coach of the year at the World Rugby Awards just months earlier.
Game 2, England threw, kicked and even handed the ball back to Australia again and again. In slippery conditions, Australia grew arrogant. They attacked and pounded the English line over and over, until they became tired and lackluster. Then, England pounced, turning Australia around and running the length of the field to score a try, take the lead, and ultimately win the game 27-7.
The Australians were unable to find answers in the 3rd game. Despite playing well they lost again 40-44, handing the English their first ever 3-0 series victory on Australian soil.
The Australians were visibly gutted.
Like George Forman at the Rumble in the Jungle, the Australians got Mohammed Ali’d.
Careful what you believe
So how is this relevant to you and your life?
While beliefs such as “we are better” seem positive, they are structures of perception based upon the past. In this case, the self-belief that Australia experienced in the lead up to the first test match was based on the experience of knocking England out of the Rugby World Cup some 9 months earlier. It had little to do this the present.
That is what facilitated Australia’s arrogance. It was arrogant because it was based on the past and had nothing to do with the present. Given this perspective, Australia failed in their actions, based on a flawed (past) strategy, to enact their intention to win.
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