how the English went beyond the stage of self-criticism

The English during a training session in Urayasu on 23 October. Christophe Ena / AP

The following sentence was not delivered at a press conference, but why not: "Every dream is realization of a desire. " If we follow the logic of Sigmund Freud, the English have dreamed a lot at the World Cup lately. Especially to avoid reliving the real nightmare of the 2015 World Cup and this elimination in the first round. A shame all the more stinging as the country organized the event at home.

The English patient is better, thanks for him. Last stage of his recovery scheduled for Saturday, November 2, in Yokohama: the XV of the Rose will face in the final South Africa for a second world title, after that of 2003.

For four years, the English have met a new coach, Eddie Jones. But also psychologists and mental trainers, from the outset emphasize the importance of ending the trauma of the previous World. On the field and especially in the heads.

A shock "huge"

Billy Vunipola explained it this fall in Japan. The third-line is one of sixteen players to have experienced early elimination four years ago. That's just over half of the current team. A shock " huge ", he explains with hindsight, "Because we had huge expectations on our shoulders and we had not kept our promises. Now we do not want to feel that anymore, and that's what motivates us even more. "

In 2016, mental work begins first with Jeremy Snape, a former English international turned back into the psychology of sport. Then with Dan Abraham and Mark Edmondson, respectively former golfer and former rugby league player. And finally, with Corine Reid, chair of psychotherapy at the University of Edinburgh. The latter had already accompanied the Australian women's field hockey team for two Olympic gold medals, Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000).

"This failure, these critics, all that was still bubbling inside me and I wanted to tell everyone to go out and be seen, all the time" – Joe Marler

None of these deputies like no other made the trip to Japan in the ranks of England, says the newspaper The Team. But their contribution remains very present, insist the players. "This work was the longest and most difficult of all"explains the Joe Marler pillar in sports daily. "Our scrum had been called into question, me in particular, and the whole team had let go. During the tournament 2016, this failure, these critics, all that still bubbled in me and I wanted to tell everyone to go to see, all the time. "

In England, the use of external aid has existed for years. In 1998, the national football team welcomed … a healer, Eileen Drewery, on the decision of coach Glenn Hoddle. Without too much calm the nerves of David Beckham, expelled in the round of 16 against Argentina.

For Jeremy Snape, the psychology of sport now represents "The last limit" to push back to improve a sporting performance. His theory, expressed in 2016 in an interview at Guardian : "From the mid-1990s, there was a decade for physical preparation, and then a decade for data analysis. The next decade will be the optimization of the mindset of players, teams and coaches. "

"Express doubts and vulnerability"

Still to overcome reluctance: "Our company celebrates personalities presented as talented, talented and perfect. There is therefore a contradiction, for these same people, to express their doubts or their vulnerability. "

The Blues, they had appealed to a mental preparer or related to prepare for the Worlds 2011 and 2015. But not for 2019. Rather regrettable, according to their compatriot Eric Blondeau, former mental trainer of Scotland: "France has a lack of knowledge of the subject, while the mind is one of the pillars, like the physical, the technique, the strategy …"

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In March, the coach of the Blues, Jacques Brunel, justified his refusal to use a preparer: "I believe that it can only have an impact if it is done in time and rather as an individual. " One of his players, Sébastien Vahaamahina, decided in 2018 to work with a sophrologist and a psychologist. For his daily club life with Clermont, but also in view of this World Cup. Competition that the Blues have left their quarter-final (20-19) against the Welsh, after, in particular, an expulsion of Vahaamahina for a nudge, and a collective bankruptcy to finish.


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