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How to triumph in the mind games

There are demons to be slain, hoodoos to be buried, monkeys to be removed from backs.

The routine line from Scotland players ahead of games against the All Blacks is that they are not worried by the long history of defeats, but it is just as common for them to admit afterwards that, yes, they did feel overawed by their opponents.

All of which is meat and drink to Dr Kristine Dun, a sport psychologist at the sportscotland institute of sport. If the Scots can win the mental battle, or at least be well prepared for it before they hit the pitch, they will have a far better chance of a first win against New Zealand.

"It's important to recognise and accept the All Blacks are a great team and are playing well now," Dr Dun said. "But then Scotland have had a great summer as well. The key is to be realistic about where you're at, but still remember it's just 15 men you're up against out there.

"They should also focus on themselves. They should be asking what they are good at. Are we strong in the tackle? Do we contest the ball? Are we resolute and disciplined in defence? It's about concentrating on yourselves."

All well and good in the dressing room, but it can all go pear-shaped in those knee-knocking moments when you have to face up to the haka. Dr Dun, an Australian who has her own reasons for wanting Scotland to win today, has a novel suggestion.

She said: "Get your plan as a team for the alignment, where and how you will stand. Make sure you stand strong. Concentrate on your opposite number, so you're facing one man and not the whole team.You can think about it as a silly dance if you find humour defuses the moment. Imagine them dancing along to a karaoke song. Put them on the dance floor. There's no reason why you can't think, 'this is just grown men doing a silly dance and it's all a bit ridiculous'."

Beyond that, Dr Dun believes the players must focus on tasks and processes rather than allow themselves to be distracted by the context. "They need to remember that the All Blacks are just people and are therefore fallible," she said. "You get down to the specifics of your own role. It's about doing your own job and staying in the present moment, then the situation is much more manageable."

Alasdair Reid

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