Aussie men pressing reset button on dealing with pressure

Mens - Hamilton
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Aussie men's Sevens coach Tim Walsh is pushing the reset button on his players' instincts under pressure as they vie to become a regular threat on the Sevens World Series.

The Aussie men have proven they have potential, finishing in the top four in Dubai, but slipped to equal seventh in the Cape Town leg last month.

In that Dubai tournament, the Aussies clinched a clash against England on the last play that set them up well for the quarter-finals, before going down in an agonising semi-final loss to the USA.

In Cape Town, those nail biters went the other way with a loss to England relegating them out of the race for fifth-place on day two. 

That most games will tend to go down to the wire is a reality of Sevens and one with which, Walsh said, his team had to become more comfortable.

“It’s a very unique game in Sevens that you play six games on the weekend and if you're a good team - which we are, we're not a great team, we're a good team - three to four games out of those six will come down to the last play,” he said.

“And that's that ability to maintain your composure, maintain your skill level, maintain the knowledge of your role and just playing your game.

“In the last five years we're at about 30 per cent winning rate, so we need to get that above 50 and it's going to be a whole different thing.”

As part of trying to change their mentality, Walsh stripped back their approach to pressure.

“I asked the players, ‘What is your default under pressure?’ and not a lot of them really knew, so it was about thinking through, ‘under pressure, what do I revert to or what do I do that I can unravel and change?’ so it was basically going through stuff or working out what that is and then we can change that.

“The psychology side of it is putting yourself into a position where everything else is just noise and you're just playing this game.

“We have our systems, we know what we're doing and we just play, as opposed to defaulting back to something that's completely outrageous and something you wouldn't do in the first minute of the game but for some reason you decide to do it in the last minute of the game and the result ends up the other way.”

Aside from simply simulating match situations to the point they become instinctive, Walsh enlisted the help of a number of former Test players, including Stephen Hoiles and Rob Horne, to talk the team through different ways of handling pressure.

“We get mentors come in or people come in and talk about pressure moments, rationalising what pressure is,” he said.

“We're very big on this mentoring sort of thing, using the Classic Wallabies, bringing in people like Stephen Hoiles, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Peter Miller, ex-7s players Tim Atkinson to talk about how they managed their emotions in those moments and they just take different pieces from that - Jimmy Holbeck's another one,” he said.

“So, it's such a huge factor but we’re  getting really good process that hopefully we'll see the real results of it very soon.”

The Aussie men next play in Hamilton on the Australia Day weekend, with Tim Anstee (ankle) ruled out of the squad and Boyd Killingworth (sydnesmosis) also under an injury cloud.

Simon Kennewell is all but certain of a return to the tour just over a year after rupturing his ACL days before the 2018 Sydney 7s.

The Sydney 7s kicks off on February 1, running until February 3. Buy tickets here.