From Sevens to Super Rugby: Clark Laidlaw's Winning Formula

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New head coach Clark Laidlaw said the improvements resulted from work on the mental and physical sides of the game.

They had a mental skills coach working three days a week with the side and a coach developer to help the coaches think about coaching.

Laidlaw said, "We're fit, we're fast and strong, but most of the games are won mentally, and something I loved at the weekend [beating the Crusaders] was the composure the forwards showed.

"There is some great footage of them at the end of the game before a scrum where they got together and said, 'Right, this is the plan; this is what we're looking to do.'

"You won't always execute it, and you won't always get that try. However, if you keep doing that, you'll win more than you lose.

"So, physically, we're in good shape, but mentally, the way we're coaching and trying to make the guys think a fair bit is probably what's helping us at the back end of games.

At the same time, Laidlaw was cautious about expectations and said he almost sounded like a broken record, but the four wins were just a start.

"There's a long way to go and there's a lot of good teams. The games were tight and we could easily have lost a couple of those games, but we didn't. But, we're realistic around what is still to come."

The coaches had a mixed reaction about the rare win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.

"Initially, we were really happy; winning down there in the rain on a cold night was pleasing. But once the emotion passed, there were areas of the game we could have been better.

"We missed a few opportunities to move the ball and try and shift the territory game. We felt they got on top of us in the second half so there was some stuff for us to look at as coaches initially. We came in yesterday [Sunday] and had a day with the team with them playing again on Friday, just to make sure that when you get stuck in a game where there is a lot of kicking, 41 kicks for us is probably a world record, we need to make sure we keep our vision where it needs to be and keep looking for opportunities."

The winning start to the season has been achieved with some natural rotation of players, especially backs, but others in the squad were itching to get starts.

Laidlaw confirmed that halfback Cam Roigard would have his All Blacks' rest this week and that TJ Perenara will start. Captain and loose forward Brad Shields is ready to be considered again.

There was some concern about Ruben Love, but Laidlaw said the moon boot he was wearing was a precaution for a sore ankle he had been carrying since the Blues game.

Laidlaw said that since taking on the coaching role, he has been proud of the teamwork among the staff, coaches, and players.

"A lot of us hadn't met three or four months ago.

"So, it's been cool to build new relationships, get to know people, and work out how we work well together.

"It's exciting because if we can keep everybody together and get them talking, there's an opportunity to grow together."

As a Scotsman and a Sevens coach, he knew he needed to prove a point to doubters.

"I am clear on who I am. I am Scottish, and I've coached Sevens. But I was also here [at the Hurricanes] coaching 15s and Taranaki, Samoa and London Irish. So, I have a range of experiences to give and [have] stuff to fall back on when times are good or hard.

"What people don't realise is the pressure involved in Sevens.

"You play six games a weekend; we've only played four. I'm not even through one weekend's worth of Sevens. That stuff can teach you about the intensity of preparation and the opposition.

"I loved my time in Sevens and it's setting me up really well to transition back to 15s."

Having been part of the Super Rugby-winning Hurricanes in 2015, Laidlaw said a comparison between that side and now was that after not being successful for a period, there was a hunger to get better.

"In 2015, there were a lot of good young professionals who had been through Mark Hammett's time to Chris Boyd's time, and I was there for the crossover. There were loads of good young professionals, all with the opportunity to mature together.

"That's quite similar this time. If you look through our squad, we've got a lot of players who have played a lot of NPC and a little bit of Super Rugby and who are starting to mature as Super Rugby players.

"There's an opportunity for those guys to grow together. So that's the similarity around the feeling and the same energy around the training.

"Back then, we used to train well and I'm feeling at the moment the preparation, through the week, is where it needs to be. We don't have to manufacture edge, or look for stuff that's not there."

He was also learning that there was a difference between being a head coach and an assistant, and Sevens had been useful for him in that regard.


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