The power of perception in rugby is massive. It's so powerful that as a coach you need to deal with perception as if it is reality.
Most fans watch a game just once - and they enter the game with an expectation based on what is generally derived by media reporting. At the end of the game these fans measure their thoughts against their opinion and come to a conclusion. Often this opinion is close to the truth although it's dependant on a number of factors, including how the match is physically watched.
If it's watched on TV, fans get the directors view. Colour is the order of the day with close-ups and action replays forcing the viewer to miss a lot of what is happening. You also have the audio input of the commentary which adds detail to the experience.
This viewing is stilted because the viewer sees what the director wants to be shown and the commentary is swayed to meet the chosen visuals. This approach means goal kickers and injured players get a lot of air time and a lot of commentary thoughts. It's quite easy to know a lot about the players who are injured regularly and the guys that kicks goals, but the reality is what is happening away from these visuals is what matters most.
If you watch the game live you are at the mercy of your own viewing position and can be distracted by what you are drinking or eating and by the fact that you are in real-time. Most of the time the crowd doesn't have the benefit of detailed replays and close-up vision. As a result the viewing experience will be altered with the emotion of the crowd and the event as it unfolds rather than factoring in any technical analysis that may be closer to the truth.
The reason I am mentioning this is because the perception of the weekend's Reds and Tahs game has been interesting in terms of the overall public opinion. As a coach you must deal with the reality of your performance internally but you must deal strongly with the external perception that remains.
I never feel successful unless we have influenced the mindset of the crowd and the media. The Reds have done so much in this space in a short period of time and perception is something we must continue to consider.
It's interesting however how the theatre of an occasion gets in the way of reality. This then turns into media spin and then popular belief.
From the weekend, the perception was that the Reds were “lucky”.
It's an easy assumption to make considering the ending but upon further review my opinion of the match changed.
Coaches and players are lucky as they get to deal in the reality of the performance as both have the ability to watch it over and over again from many different angles. We then get the statistics to back it up.
The reality in the raw numbers was that the Reds had one of their finest defensive performances since I've been here. In the end we had a 92% tackle success rate.
The try to finish the game was also a brilliant team effort from 80 metres out. Tapuai beat two tacklers, a prop filled in at halfback and Shipperley was forced to beat four defenders. This try could have happened in the first minute and been absorbed in the outcome but it was on the bell and therefore it becomes luck as opposed to the six tackle opportunities missed. It all depends on how you want to look at it really. What's the perception?
Digging deeper, a lot of stats were also skewed in our favour. We tackled better, made more linebreaks, had more phases, kicked less and conceded fewer penalties. We also won 100% of our scrum feeds and secured 89% of our lineout possession, the same as NSW.
The one stat however was we made too many handling errors that invited them into the game. We were the best handling team in the competition last year so our challenge now it to fix our errant ways from the weekend.
Ball control is what we will take forward to the Force game as the perception, or reality if you read the paper, is that they will try and stifle and slow down the ball.
It's interesting that teams spend so much time talking about shutting us down – perhaps the perception around us after all is not all bad.