The mind game's extra sense of perception can win

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The Independent Online
The approach to this game is testimony to just how much the preparation for matches has advanced in recent years.

No longer is it simply a question of going through a game plan and practising set-pieces and moves. The mind game is king. To that end this England side have turned to the help of a psychologist, Austin Swain. Together we have looked at what has been labelled the Cardiff Factor and furthermore at the complacency which we feel has at times crept into our games so far this season.

I have never played at Cardiff but the more experienced members of the squad have painted a graphic picture of just what it is like. Hostile is a word they use a lot. Ever since the heady days of the Seventies Wales have struggled to regain their mantle of greatness, in spite of - among other things - emerging as Five Nations champions last season.

At present we are attracting all the plaudits and the Welsh would like nothing more than to topple us from these lofty heights. This chip-on- the-shoulder mentality has - and will - create an enormous amount of hostility towards us from some sections of the Arms Park.

The home crowd's resolve will be shaky though, and if we start the match with the same level of dominance as we displayed in Dublin last month against the Irish, then we are sure that the Cardiff Factor will fade away.

That is the ideal scenario and we have, of course, had to look at the alternatives. Should they arise, then composure and control will be the order of the day. Much like all games in the Five Nations' Championship, nothing less than tight ball retention will do and our victories so far have been earned thanks to this.

Being hyper-critical about ourselves, one thing we must improve on for this game is the complacency we have shown during the first two matches. This tends to occur when we have gone into a relatively comfortable lead.

We have set ourselves a target of blitzing sides in the first quarter of the match, and having achieved that we then seem to rest on our laurels, soaking up whatever the opposition has to throw at us.

Against the French this led to them scoring a try and closing the gap to three points. In today's match this would be suicidal, not least because of the Cardiff Factor. In a discussion with Austin we have sought to remedy the problem by first of all recognising its onset whilst on the pitch and then devising a mental trigger which will help us switch out of this comfort zone.

Austin has also been of great use to some of us on a personal level, myself included. I was disappointed with certain ex-internationals' attitude to the inclusion of a psychologist into the set-up.

To achieve our ultimate aim of Grand Slam and World Cup victories we must explore every avenue, not least in the mind. Far from being an admission of weakness, talking to a psychologist is simply striving for the best in oneself and for the team. I don't think that Austin's contribution to our successes thus far should be overlooked.

Personally he has been of help in two respects. By using relaxation techniques to help ease any tension leading up to a game and by using mental techniques to help eliminate negative thoughts during a game. Every player in any sport is bound to have them at some stage and it is up to him or her to make sure they do not develop and affect how you play in the rest of the game.

Of course, should the team manage to play as well as it is at present this should continue to be of little relevance and we should be able to lay the ghosts of Cardiff past.

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