Things I wish I hadn’t said: Sir Clive Woodward

March 19, 2013

Clive WoodwardMonitoring the predictions of Rugby experts in the recently finished Six Nations competition, I noted those of former England coach Sir Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward will be remembered as the England coach for the team that won the Rugby world cup in 2002. He is now a commentator for the BBC. I was particularly interested to learn insights from the thinking of a successful sporting leader. I found that over the last two weeks of rugby, he shared the human tendency to avoid challenging the reliability of his prior opinions in light of additional evidence.

Prior to the England Italy game

“It would be good for England to score five tries to put them in the right spirit for the game against Wales [the title decider, the following week]“

After the England Italy game

“The way they played against Italy is just the wake-up call to prepare them against Wales”

Before the Wales England game

“It will be tight but England should shade it.”

After the Wales England game [which Wales won 30-3]

“England will learn a lot from this defeat”

The next day

After the match, Sir Clive seemed to have had a spell of amnesia regarding his early remarks, telling the BBC

“The rest of the world would have taken notice of that, the bubble has been burst and teams would have seen who they [England] are and what they have to do to beat them.”

Other reactions

One English commentator pre-match had made a different assessment to Sir Clive in an article “Here’s why the whole of Wales and Scotland and Ireland want to see England humiliated”. It’s worth reading in full, to capture some of the dimensions of the “Arrogant English” charge leveled at its Rugby establishment.

More typical was the view expressed by another former England international, Mike Tindall, in his balanced analysis of why “England must be ready to face Cardiff’s cauldron of hate”

“England are by far the best team in the Six Nations. The most important thing about them is their base game. It’s of the highest standard and that will always keep you in a game.”

Image

Image is from barryjphillips blogspot . Barry wrote a positive review of Sir Clive Woodward’s book Winning, saying he would like to deliver a pass to a rugby playing friend, but decided to retain possession.


The Rugby World Cup: Will it be 1966 or 1066 for Wales?

October 14, 2011

triple-crown-2008.jpg60,000 Welsh rugby fans pack the Millenium stadium to watch a match being played 12,000 miles away between Wales and France. The talk is of the glory days of the 1970s, and matching the forty years of celebrations after England’s 1966 World Cup triumph against Germany

A little history

To mark the event we have reproduced a LWD post written a few years ago. It records the story of Warren Gatland, now in charge of the Welsh team in its quest for glory in New Zealand.

The Original Post (2008)

In Welsh rugby, the New Zealand connection runs deep. Yesterday’s Triple Crown battle was framed as Warren Gatland coaching Wales, against Eddie O’ Sullivan, who succeeded Gatland as coach of Ireland. Yesterday’s match against Ireland was billed as a grudge match between the coaches, the very Irish O’ Sullivan, and the very non-Welsh Warren Gatland.

The start of a legend

Where to start the story? A few years ago Graham Henry came to Wales as coach. Henry went back to his native New Zealand to build a team expected to walk to victory in the World cup in 2007 but who failed to meet expectations.

Enter Graham Henry

A few months before this season’s competition, the much-maligned Welsh rugby selectors turned to another would-be rescuer from across the seas. The man created hope. He created more than hope. He created Ospraylia, a new country of dreams around the Mumbles, the hills overlooking the Mumbles Bay, and the sleep-steeped Dylan Thomas town of Swansea. His creation was based on The Ospreys, its newly created provincial rugby team.

Out of Osprey land he called forth a team of warriors, with just a few other recruits from the distant city state of Cardiff. The army marshaled against the Irish was as follows

Wales [Osprayia]: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: G Williams (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys) for A. Jones (72), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester) for R. Jones (75), D Peel (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys) for S. Jones (65), S Parker (Ospreys).

Gatland had hit on an old idea, which worked brilliantly. He created a brotherhood. The dream was both new, and as old as the Celtic myths of leaders who took their armies across the Irish Sea to do battle. And so it was that the warriors from Osraylia walked calmly on to another great place of battle, Croke park, where Ireland were held to be huge favourites.

The Battle

The battle was fierce. After fifty minutes ,the teams were level at 6-6. A ferocious start from the Irish had been fought off. The Ospraylians, althoughdrilled to overcome past errors of indiscipline, twice lost men banished from the fray for their misdeeds. Even then they clung on.

The Decisive Blow

The decisive blow came with a scampering try from Shane Williams, the smallest man on the field. Williams had been struggling to avoid contact with full-size Irish defenders throughout, but he managed that one glory run on adrenaline-enriched fuel and fear. Ospraylia were ahead.

After that it was trench warfare in mud and rain. But the Irish could make no headway. Two minutes of grunt and scrabble ended it. Not a great match. But a great result and a great story.

The Independent View

The Independent returned to the tale of two coaches

In four victories Warren Gatland has transformed the rabble that was once the Dragonhood into a unit who have competitive steel to match the talent that has lain untapped for far too long. Of course, there was some personal revenge being wreaked on the nation that dispensed of Gatland’s services so abruptly six years ago, not to mention on the ambitious assistant who took his job. But when he claimed that “this was not about me and Eddie [O'Sullivan]” it was difficult not to see his point. Wales have found Warren, Warren has found Wales and this love affair will run and run.

The love affair lasted

And as in all legends, the story never ended. Three years later, Gatland had replaced many of his original warriers with new young players for their place in Rugby history, possibly against the New Zealand All Blacks, coached by, (who else) Warren Gatland. The film rights are already being lined up for another Invictus.

Postscipt: it was 1066 and all that

The semi-final made wonderful drama which ended in France winning by one point. Wales had played for most of the match with great spirit and skill, but with fourteen men, having lost their Captain through a controversial refereeing decision. The film may not now be made, but the story will be added to Welsh Rugby mythology.


Ospralia wins Triple Crown by a Mumbles Mile

March 9, 2008

triple-crown-2008.jpg

Update October 14th 1011
One of the first posts in LWD recognised the skills of Warran Gatland in building a successsful Welsh rugby team. The original is reproduced on the eve of the semi-finals of Rugby’s World Cup in New Zealand, where Gatland’s youthful team prepared to play France

Original Post

In Welsh rugby, the New Zealand connection runs deep. There is admiration for the rugby success of a hilly little nation with more sheep than potential scrum halves. The admiration is not diminished by neighbours with sporting attitude. Yesterday’s Triple Crown battle was framed as Warren Gatland coaching Wales, against Eddie O’ Sullivan, who succeeded Gatland as coach of Ireland

Maybe, as a long-time exile, I am out of touch with the Principality and its contemporary culture. Rugby was always the national sport by a Mumbles mile. And in Rugby, The Triple Crown held a mystique in Wales that goes beyond any other sporting challenge that I can think of.

Arguably, boxing success might be up there, with rugby achievements. At the moment, Joe Calzaghi is adding another name to a hall of fame occupied by the shades of Jimmy Wilde, Tommy Farr, and Dai Dower. But for the most part, it’s rugby all the way down. And it has been pretty much all the way down, since the glory days of the 1970s.

Yesterday’s match against Ireland had another twist to it. It had been billed as a grudge match between the coaches, the very Irish O Sullivan, and the very non-Welsh Warren Gatland.

The start of a legend

Where to start the story? Wherever you like, but mention the hunger rations of Welsh rugby fans for decades. Mention the flicker of hope when the brilliant Graham Henry came in as coach from New Zealand a few years ago. Henry went back to New Zealand to build a team there billed as one of the greatest ever seen. That was the team that was expected to walk to victory in the World cup in 2007, and slunk away in near disgrace from the rubble of expectations.

Mention the local heroes who tried and failed after Henry. But above all, mention Warren Gatland.

Gatland begats Osprayia on the Mumbles

And so it was that a few months before this season’s competition, the much-maligned Welsh rugby selectors turned away from local heroes, and brought in another New Zealand coach, another would-be rescuer from across the seas.

The man created hope. He created more than hope. He created Ospraylia, a new country of dreams around the Mumbles, the hills overlooking the Mumbles Bay, and the sleep-steeped Dylan Thomas town of Swansea. HIs creation was based on The Ospreys, its newly created provincial rugby team.

Out of Osprey land he called forth a team of warriors, with just a few other recruits from the distant city state of Cardiff. The army marshaled against the Irish was as follows

Wales [Osprayia]: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: G Williams (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys) for A. Jones (72), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester) for R. Jones (75), D Peel (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys) for S. Jones (65), S Parker (Ospreys).

Gatland had hit on an old idea, which worked brilliantly. He would create new hope in a new dream. The dream was both new, and as old as the Celtic myths of leaders who took their armies across the Irish Sea to do battle.

And so it was that the warriors from Osraylia walked calmly on to another great place of battle, Croke park. Ireland were held to be favourites on track record, plus home advantage.

The Battle

The battle was fierce. After fifty minutes ,the teams were level at 6-6. A ferocious start from the Irish had been fought off. The Ospraylians, drilled to overcome past errors of indiscipline, by Gatland, twice lost men banished from the fray for their misdeeds.

Even then they clung on.

The Decisive Blow

The decisive blow came with a scampering try from Shane Williams, the smallest man on the field (Ireland’s own mini-hero, Skinner, was on the replacement bench). Williams had been struggling to avoid contact with full-size Irish defenders throughout, but he managed that one glory run on adrenaline-enriched fuel and fear. Ospraylia were ahead.

After that it was trench warfare in mud and rain. But the Irish could make no headway. Two minutes of grunt and scrabble ended it. Not a great match. But a great result and a great story.

The Independent View

The Independent returned to the tale of two coaches

In four victories Warren Gatland has transformed the rabble that was once the Dragonhood into a unit who have competitive steel to match the talent that has lain untapped for far too long. Of course, there was some personal revenge being wreaked on the nation that dispensed of Gatland’s services so abruptly six years ago, not to mention on the ambitious assistant who took his job. But when he claimed that “this was not about me and Eddie [O'Sullivan]” it was difficult not to see his point. Wales have found Warren, Warren has found Wales and this love affair will run and run.

Maybe. That’s the thing about leadership myths. Sometimes the hero gets to bask in glory ever after. More often he is brought low. Ask the Greeks. Ask the bards of Wales brought up on the tales on the Mabinogion, in which the warrior princes of Wales travel to Ireland in search of glory and honour, back in the Land of their fathers.

Image: Appropriately disoriented image from disoriented blogger


Leadership dreams, visions, and nightmares

October 23, 2007

mbeki-after-world-cup.jpgThe payoff from a vision dashed is a recurring nightmare. We examine recent sporting visions, dreams and nightmares during the Rugby Union world-cup

A glimpse of dashed dreams was transmitted around the world as the beaten English rugby team trudged up to receive their runners-up medals after defeat by South Africa. As if in a nightmare, the players trudged past the line of dignitaries, which included Presidents Sarcozy of France, the host nation, Brown of England (and Scotland and Wales), and Mbiki of South Africa. Weariness seemed to have damped-down despair and elation alike. The players just about managed perfunctory handshakes.

A few minutes later and joy overcame fatigue for the South Africans as they eventually got their hands on the trophy. The defining image was that of President Mbiki hald aloft not quite as securely as man of the match Victor Mayfield in the lineouts which he dominated throughout the game. Sorry, must make that clear: It was Mayfield who dominated the lineouts, Mbiki the political gestures, during the post-match celebrations.

The vision

The build-up to the final from had been a classical example of the way sport can tap into the deepest of group emotions. A popular upsurge in interest was captured and amplified through the obsessive reporting from Paris, where there seemed to be more former international players than members of the current squad.

The broad news story was that England would be a match for the Springboks. Most of the legion of elders suggested that England could win, if they played to their very best. Most reporters translated this as meaning that the match would be very close. Close? The South Africans had beaten England seriously in the earlier stages of the tournament.

The talisman

Yes, but that was before the team began its revival. Before its talisman Jonny Wilkinson returned to fitness. Before those nail-biting victories against Australia and then France.

The pre-match story began to make sense to me. There was something very important going in England culturally. This was one of those episodes which reveal how culture defines itself, and is itself defined. A vision is articulated.

We are the champions of the world in Rugby Union. We will remain champions for the next four years by beating South Africa.

How will it be achieved? Because we have the talisman. He who will not let us down. Jonny Wilkinson. He whose very presence will strike fear into our enemies. And so on.

Specifically there was a genuinely mimetic story to be heard. [Mimetics: The controversial of cultural transmission through ‘conceptual genes’ or memes.] It is consistent with a memetic approach that the story becomes become more consistent in its re-telling.

The replication process was helped by the intense appetite for ‘news’ from any-one. Celebrity Rugby has-beens were in demand. But so was the voice of the true supporter, the camp follower from the front-line. These were the voices from people close to the action. The real heroes were in silent preparation for the mighty battle ahead.

Someone articulated the achievement of the dream in a special way. It became the orthodoxy. It went something like this.

South Africa beat us, but that was when Jonny was injured.

They know Johnny is our match-winner and fear him.

Their fear will weaken their play and their resolve.

If we are only five or six behind with twenty minutes to go, their fear will play into our hands.

Although they will try to prevent it, the result is inevitable. Our mighty forwards will control the ball, battle forward, the ball will come out to Jonny.

Jonny will kick a drop goal.

That will confirm to the opponents that their fate is sealed.

And then we will score again and win.

The story has the power of all primitive atavistic expressions of fear and motivation. It is the verbal equivalent of the Hakas performed earlier in this and every tournament for over a hundred years by the New Zealand all-blacks. I have tried to report it accurately. Note how Wilkinson, undoubtedly the focal image within the story, changes the course of the game. But he doesn’t win it.

That’s one way in which the story has its power. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it has its powerful echoes. If the story just had the team winning by Jonny dropping a goal at the last minute, the story would lose power. ‘That’s just remembering what happened last time?’ someone might object, in the spirit of the lad shouting that the Emperor has no clothes. That was then. Here’s the new story of our destiny.

One moving, one clapping?

In the vision, fate decried only one outcome. But as someone pointed out, you may not be playing a game with one side moving and the other side clapping. Indeed, we might see all such battles as a contest between two stories, each of which has won over other stories in the run-up to battle. Eventually one vision triumphs, the other loses.

But the cultural loss is softened. There is always a way to find consolation. Victory denied, is also denial of defeat. We must have been robbed.

We was robbed

Yes. In those bitter and dark hours for English fans, there was the coda of being unfairly beaten. (How else?). In this case, it was the case of the disallowed try which would have brought the score into Jonney Wilkinson territory. The effort was disallowed by a fourth official. An Australian. Need I say more?

The other vision

There was another story developing. The South African dream went beyond winning a little golden cup. The symbolism was there for all to see. The nation had also had its earlier dream come true, as Nelson Mandela celebrated their earlier win. Then the President wore the gold and green shirt, which was previously a symbol associated with the earlier apartheid regime. This time the President wore a suit. But it was very convenient that the charismatic Mandela was ‘too ill to travel’.

The story, as was the one that England had dreamed of, was rooted in the past, but was also about the future. In South Africa, there is still a long road to travel, as Mandela would put it, to achieve the goals of one nation at peace with itself. The sporting win was recruited in the service of its cultural and political dream.

One clapping, one moving

I just remembered who used to talk about sport as a creative collaboration not a competition. It was Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky, one of the greatest chess trainers of all time. I can’t find the reference, (yet) but he warned players against too much focus on one’s own strategy. Chess is not a game with ‘one player moving, and the other clapping’ he liked to say. That’s another quote in search of a definitive reference, as well as another example of chess as a source of strategic insights.


A Bad Week for Weakened Leaders: But how far is Paris from Agincourt?

October 19, 2007

agincourt.jpg
It’s been a bad week for British leaders. A spate of sackings and resignations has occurred. The battered leaders met their nemesis after humiliating performances in sport, business and politics. But hope persists at the prospects for a great victory in the Rugby World Cup

There are so many stories. Too many for me to cover all of them in detail.

Some were easier to predict than others. Sammy Lee acquired his job at the start of the season, as manager of Bolton Wanderers FC, when the much-admired Sam Allardyce was head-hunted for Newcastle United. He stepped up from Big Sam’s shadow. But from the start he was dubbed little Sam, a painful reminder of his erstwhile stature and status. Bolton has had a dreadful start to the season. In a little league table of Premiership managers facing the sack, I had him placed second (just below Martin Jols of Tottenham). Sorry Martin. Hang in there.

Then there were the casualties from the World Cup of Rugby Football. I didn’t have a list of these. But I certainly would not have placed Graham Henry of the New Zealand All Blacks anywhere near the top. My list of managers most likely to take an early bath would have been headed by England’s Brian Ashton, about whom more later. Henry’s team had been confirming their status as the tournament favourites until the quarter finals. Until then they had outstripped opponents so thoroughly that they had hardly become match tight. They lost a tight game, playing below their potential. Exit New Zealand. Exit Henry.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland failed to make it through the first stage of the tournaments. Out went Gareth Jenkins of Wales, and Eddie O’ Sullivan, of Ireland. Only Scotland’s much-rated Frank Hadden survived.

England’s football coach Steve McClaren also seems to be surviving on borrowed time, after defeat to Russia leaves England’s qualification from the European Cup in doubt. In his case, there is a mathematical probability that England will reach the knockout stage of the European competition. This, as much as somewhat improved performances by the team, is staying the hand of the English Football Association. They had already botched the appointment of McClaren after a hasty effort and failed effort to secure Big Sam (sorry, Big Phil) Scolari during last year’s World Cup.

[Will Big Steve survive in his present coaching job longer than Big Martin Jols of Tottenham?].

In Politics

In Politics the increasingly nasty tussles between Gordon Brown and David Cameron continue in Parliamentary exchanges. Ironically, the more immediate victim of that contest was Ming Campbell of the Liberal Democrats. In a decision that caught the press unawares, Ming has his retirement announced for him by two leading Lib Dem king-makers and king -unmakers. (‘Did you wield the knife’ one reporter shouted audibly during the televised announcement. No, he resigned. Ming spoke the next day, saying he had decided that he would not be able to deflect the media from obsessing about his age, thus hindering all attempts to get across the political messages he wanted to convey.

These petty-paced political moves are arguably no more than the uncomfortable outcroppings of democracy. As I write, I learn of the real carnage within presumably an assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto as she re-entered Pakistan after a decade of exile.

In Business

In the aftermath of the celebrated Northern Rock affair, the bank’s leaders appeared before the commons select committee that had already interviewed the leaders of the Bank of England, The treasury, and The Financial Services Authority.

Under typically robust questioning, Adam Applegarth and Matt Ridley denied that they had ‘done anything wrong’ but indicated that they would accept the judgement of their shareholders, if they were eventually forced to resign.

In the course of the questioning, it was also revealed that all the bank’s senior directors had offered to resign in the immediate aftermath of the run, but had been asked to stay on to sort out its problems.

I think they are safe for the moment, on the same grounds as Big Steve McClaren has a temporary stay of execution. [Stop press, a few hours after I posted this, Dr Ridley accepted the inevitable and resigned].

In a somewhat different story, ITV faces calls for the dismissal of various culprits in their money-making scheme based on rigged phone-in contests. The enormity of this story can be seen when it emerges that Mr Ant and Mr Dec are under threat. That’s like Santa up for shop-lifting in the Christmas Sales.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

King-makers popped up to endorse Steve McClaren, and to praise and bury Ming Campbell. They even popped up to endorse coach Brian Ashton, after England’s heart-stopping Rugby Union victory over France. It could be seen as one of those endorsements which increasingly indicate that the coach is in big trouble. The denial serves to signal the presence of trouble, not its absence. This was a slightly different kind of announcement, I think. It was made on the wave of national support for the England team.

Here we have an example of the rapid swings for and against a leader. Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell. The performances of his teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is from Paris to Agincourt?


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