Fifty-six years of failure have the tendency to affect the self-belief levels and perhaps this is what Warren Gatland had in mind when employing a motivational expert to work with his internationals. Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953 and it is clearly part of Andy McCann's brief to convince this Dragonhood they can prevail on Saturday where so many generations have fallen short before.
The revelation came on the day when Gatland announced his team for their autumn series opener. The deployment of James Hook, the would-be No 10, at full-back to fill in for the injured Lee Byrne was expected, but that of Paul James to cover for another stricken Lion in Adam Jones most definitely came as a surprise.
The Osprey has only started twice at tighthead as a professional and the last time was three years ago. Furthermore, James's previous cap was at loosehead and came way back in 2003. If the 27-year does have a few confidence issues he at least has somewhere to turn.
McCann is a former karate international who quit as a PE teacher in 2004 after suffering a stroke, aged just 37. His fight-back saw him receive a UK Award for Courage as he retrained as a clinical hypnotherapist and life coach, setting up one of Wales's leading corporate training consultancy and establishing himself on the motivational-speaker circuit.
Robin McBryde, the forwards coach, first got McCann involved with Wales in June on what was essentially a development tour to North America. Such was McCann's influence Gatland invited him back to work with the hard-nosed seniors. "It's a personal thing," said the Kiwi. "Andy's not doing anything with the squad as a group, but if the boys want to have a one-one chat with him he's there."
An insider in the Welsh camp said that initially the players were wary, but "now most of them have had a chat with him". Alun Wyn Jones, the gigantic Lions lock, confirmed he was he was due to have a session with McCann last night. "We'll have a cuppa and see what he has to say," he said.
Whether McCann was to point out that the jet-lagged New Zealanders are there for the taking - having been humbled three times by the South Africans in the Tri Nations and having lost not only their all-important prop, Tony Woodcock, in Saturday's victory over Australia in Tokyo but also the flyer Sitiveni Sivivatu - is debatable. Maybe McCann would just have repeated what he confesses to be his guiding priniciple. "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy shit, what a ride!'".Reuse content