The most important things leading up to a big game is: make sure the boys are ready to play. It sounds a ridiculously facile statement, but it is true. It is so, so easy to overtrain the team the week before, when the players really need a full tank for match day.
If there is any heavy lifting to be done, then the coach needs to cover it early in the week. The scrummage and the defence are two areas the All Blacks will tend to work at on Monday or Tuesday. By Thursday we will not be doing any contact rugby.
It is the job of the coaches to analyse the opposition weaknesses beforehand. You will then sit down and share that information with the players and let them take part in the decisions over how best to exploit those weaknesses.
If you were England looking at Wales, you would plan to beat them in the set piece, because if Wales get control of the gain line, then England are in trouble. You would also want your 10 to get the defence up quickly – Dan Carter is very good at this – in order to try to cut down Wales’s big backs before they get running at you.
Wales might sense that England has a weak defensive seam between the backs and the forwards at the scrummage. It is a relatively inexperienced England back row and Wales have some big runners with which to attack and get in behind. England have also not always re-organised their defence as quickly as in previous years, leaving front row forwards exposed.
But Wales will also be aware that England are very good at driving off lineouts. They tend to earn a lot of penalties in that area and Wales will want to contain the home side.
The most important thing is that the team is ready to play. In a big match like this it is possible to be over aroused – if I can say that – during the week. You don’t want to keep players locked up in their rooms. Sometimes it can take 25 internationals before a player fully learns to manage himself in the week, so you don’t want to stoke things up.
I used to give a special talk to the players in the build up, but I gave that up. It was probably more about me than them. I am also not a big fan of bringing in an outside personality close to the game. We sometimes asked Brian Lochore or Jock Hobbs to speak to the squad, rugby men who had been there, but it was usually before a tournament rather than during it.
As the week progresses the coach wants to make himself redundant. He needs to hand over responsibility to the captain. The players need to be ready to think for themselves long before the ref blows his whistle to start the match.