An hour or so after New Zealand’s 37-17 demolition of France in the pool stage of the 2011 World Cup, the two backroom teams shared a drink in a changing room.
It had been a tough four years since New Zealand’s quarter-final defeat to France in 2007 and motivation for the rematch in Auckland wasn’t lacking.
Even Marc Lievremont realised that New Zealand may well win that initial battle in 2011 though, for him, the greater war ahead was a different proposition entirely.
“So we were all having a drink and they were just about to leave and he (Lievremont) said: ‘We’ll see you in the final’ and he put his beer down and walked away,” recalled Alistair Rogers, the All Blacks’ performance analyst who, seven years earlier, had held the position of director of rugby with the Ballina club in Mayo.
“Steve Hansen looked at me and went: ‘Did he just say that?’ The thing was, we’d put so much emotion into the pool game against France because we’d built up a lot of that from 2007 and then for him to say that...you see they knew that they couldn’t win in New Zealand twice.”
Lievremont, of course, was right. France only needed to beat New Zealand once, in the final, and they did meet again and it was a lot closer but an 8-7 game still went New Zealand’s way. Their first World Cup win since 1987.
“Just a massive sense of relief more than anything, it wasn’t too much enjoyment, the enjoyment came after,” recalled Rogers. “At that time, it was just: ‘Thank goodness we’ve done the job’.”
Rogers has a thousand tales like that, some of which he recalls on the Sleep Eat Perform Repeat podcast.
It’s an Irish podcast that investigates high performance and few are more qualified to speak on this subject than the south Wales man.
His is a life less ordinary, the year spent in Ireland not an outlier but a trademark move in a career that has also taken him to coaching and analysis roles in China, Samoa, Japan, and New Zealand, all in the quest for development.
His calling card remains his involvement in those World Cup wins with rugby’s greatest. Rogers recalls how Hansen, upgraded from assistant coach in 2011 to coach outright, spoke of pursuing perfection approaching the 2015 World Cup when they made history by retaining the Webb Ellis Cup.
Hansen’s vision was to become “the most dominant team in the history of the game”.
“I remember sitting down with the coaching group and Steve was saying: ‘We want to be able to do something that no-one else has done before’. I remember that moment really, really clearly. That was the moment when I went: ‘I really want to be part of this’.
“Sometimes, growing up in the northern hemisphere, a lot of guys are pretty cautious about having big aspirations or big visions of what they want to do. You can get brought back down to earth very quickly. For me to be part of a team that would sit there and go: ‘We want to do something that no-one else has done...’ We just got really excited, you could feel the energy in the room and everyone going: ‘Let’s do this’.”
Rogers has been in New Zealand for the guts of 20 years and is speaking from Auckland at 5am. He is asked by the host what high performance means to him? He probably doesn’t need to answer, doing the interview at that hour says enough. High performance is his way of life, a 24/7 mindset.
“If you’ve got a young kid in school who is maybe not the brightest in school but is really pushing his own boundaries and learning and discovering then who is to say that they’re not high performing in that environment,” was Rogers’ actual reply. “I think that’s it for me, it’s to reach your potential in your environment that you step into.”
Rogers wasn’t always so sure footed. When he first took his IT degree and knowledge of rugby as a middle of the road player in Wales and moulded them both together, jumping into the performance analysis game in New Zealand — his father always told him to go to New Zealand if he really wanted to learn about rugby — he found it a steep learning curve.
“I actually thought to myself, ‘I don’t know anything about the game!’”
Ambition soon turned into competence, then experience and eventually, mastery. If he was starting all over again, what message would he impart to himself?
“If I’m really, really honest I’d probably just whisper to that young fella that: ‘Everything is going to be okay, it’ll work out, you’ll find a way’. New Zealand Rugby do a great job in coach development but they don’t really teach you about when it isn’t going right, how are you going to be? I think that message to the young fella, that everything is going to be alright would just give a bit of guidance to know that things will work out if you just keep believing and keep being authentic to yourself.”
- The full interview with Alistair Rogers on the Sleep Eat Perform Repeat podcast can be accessed at www.sleepeatperformrepeat.com.