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.


How ritual resists the march of time

January 14, 2012

The introduction of a social innovation is resisted in a remote community in Wales through an annual ritual acknowledging the more ancient tradition

The social innovation is the Gregorian calendar. In 1752 an attempt was made to adjust the calendar to arrange the festivals of midwinter and midsummer to reflect the actual seasons. Several weeks were lopped of the year. Some resistance occurred for this as in most social innovations. Resistance is likely to be strongest in rural locations isolated from the dynamic hubs of change.

The BBC reports the story from such a location in South West Wales:

The people of the Gwaun Valley near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire ignored this decree and carried on regardless.
In keeping with tradition, [on New Year’s day by the ancient Julian calendar] children from the valley walk from house to house and sing traditional songs in Welsh which have not altered for centuries.
In return, householders shower them with sweets and money – or “calennig”, literally “New Year gift or celebration”.
The local school, Ysgol Llanychllwydog in Pontfaen, will be open but the teachers are not expecting to see much of their 25 pupils that day.

Of course, for much of the year, the community lives with the Gregorian calendar. now standardised internationally. Note however, that there are also alternatives in several cultures also co-existing and respecting older cultural traditions aropund the world.

The story is of interest as an example of how ritual helps retain an old traditional way of thinking.


Gary Speed RIP

November 27, 2011

Gary Speed

Update [Dec 3rd 2011]

After his tragic death, there was a surge of acknowledgements of the life and achivements of Gary Speed, both within and beyond the football world. The original post [below] captures the mood in the first 24 hours, as the news spread around the world

Gary Speed died suddenly on November 27th 2011 at the age of 42

The Wales Manager Gary Speed was promising a bright future for Welsh international football. His young team was gaining in confidence after three consecutive wins.

A premature death

In the days that followed his death, there were tributes from around the world. The picture from countless friends that repeatedly emerged was someone who had transcended the egotistical danger of fame.

Here is a video of BBC radio bulletin which was broadcast a few hours after news of his premature death. It includes the silent tribute paid to Gary Speed at the start of the Swansea City:Aston Villa match which turned into spontaneous applause.

Modest but of fierce resolve

In the vocabulary of Leaders we deserve Gary Speed might be seen as a version of the Level five leader (modest but of fierce resolve) . Others might see elements of the the charismatic figure from whom friends and colleagues wanted approval. The more recent ideas of authentic leadership also come into the picture.

Press discipline

The media respected the wishes of the family for respect to be shown without intrusion. Perhaps the publicity being given to the on-going Leveson inquiry into press standards was an influential factor in this.

On the day of his inquest, web stories begin about the contribution of tabloid media to Speed’s death. The Sun is showing great interest in the emerging story and has provided stunning (but non-exclusive) coverage.

The Tributes

Among the many tributes, one of the most imaginative was from Leeds fans

Earlier this week Leeds fans chanted Speed’s name for 11 minutes from the 11th minute of their match against Nottingham Forest in honour of their former number 11.


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.


The Irish Grannies strategy at play but Wales gets to keep Tongan Toby

June 17, 2011

Toby Faletau

The question of nationality has always been a part of Rugby Union. The All Blacks of New Zealand played it to effect with various Tongans and Samoans. The Irish have developed ancestry claims as tenuous as that of American Presidents to prop up their national team. Now it becomes part of a battle for the services of two players who have defected from the Welsh camp having played for the Welsh Under 20s team.

My second favourite team

Ireland happens to be my second favourite Rugby Union team, after that of Wales. It gave me no pleasure to read a fascinating story about a row brewing up between the rugby authorities, as reported in Wales on line.

Background

Toby Faletau is unwittingly at the centre of an eligibility row between Wales and Ireland. The Wales No 8, who made his debut against the Barbarians a fortnight ago, finds himself embroiled in an eligibility dispute which the International Rugby Board has been asked to rule on. Two of Faletau’s Wales Under-20s team-mates, Matthew Jarvis and James Loxton are dual-qualified for Wales and Ireland.Former Ospreys back Jarvis and [Cardiff] Blues rookie Loxton agreed contracts with Irish province, Connacht, earlier this year only on the understanding they were eligible to play for Ireland

Turns out that Tongan Toby was brought up in Wales (so he’s Welsh, see?). But Matthew has an Irish mum and James has an Irish grandmother. These claims have been accepted as part of Ireland’s Grannies strategy. But as happens in things Celtic, it all got a bit more complicated.

The Under-20s is not the A team

Acute readers (and which LWD subscriber is not acute?) will have noticed mention of the three playing for the Welsh Under-20s team. So Wales get to keep Matthew and James? No, because The Under-20s is not the A team.

Irish club Connaught snap up the two on the understanding that Under-20s play is not automatic recognition of a claim on nationality.

The WRU claim that the Wales Under-20 side is now their second-string side, with the A-team being disbanded, and that any player who plays at that level commits themselves to Wales. But it is claimed that Faletau, who was born in Tonga but has resided in Wales since the age of seven, was the only player told his appearance for Wales Under-20s committed his Test future to Wales. While Loxton, who qualified for Ireland through his mother, and Jarvis, who qualifies via an Irish grandmother, claim they were never told playing for Wales Under-20s committed them to Wales.

Creative strategy needed

Anyone with suggestions or a creative strategy for resolving this issue get in touch with the Irish or Welsh rugby union boards according to your nationality.

Update [Nov 2011]
Toby Faletau was one of the stars of the successful Welsh team in the World Cup in New Zealand. His international future looks rosy (but definitely not Irish green).

Update [Jan 2012]

A similar case bubbles up over the nationality and international status of Steve Shingler, hotly persued by Scotland and Wales.


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


Fijian joy and Welsh fury at Rugby performances

October 1, 2007

cal40rpx.jpg

Just another rugby game. But when Fiji beat Wales in the 2007 rugby world cup, the nation erupted into joyful celebrations. The losers braced themselves for national fury

It was a week in which bloody events in Burma overshadowed sporting contests. The customary sporting rhetoric of disaster and retributive justice meted out to the losers of a rugby game seemed inappropiate.

As for the rugby, the mighty celebrations in Fiji, we learned, were perhaps partly too be curtailed until after the Sabbath. Fijians, like the Welsh are a religious nation.

My jotted notes after the Fiji game

This is a bad week to fall back on the customary sporting rhetoric, and a vocabulary of natonal humiliation, shame, and atonement, with calls for ritualistic sacrifice of the coach (Gareth Jenkins), the Welsh Rugby Union officials, the captain, (‘Alfie’ Thomas) team members, training squad.

Within a few hours the observations turned out to be less rhetorical than I had intended them to be. The BBC reported the news.

Gareth Jenkins has been sacked as Wales head coach after his side crashed out of the World Cup. Jenkins was told of the Welsh Rugby Union’s decision by chief executive Roger Lewis and chairman David Pickering at the team hotel on Sunday. Lewis said: “No-one would deny the total commitment and passion that Gareth Jenkins has given to the cause. “His desire for success has been tangible – you can taste it, you can smell it – but it was not to be.”

The sacrifices had begun

[Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears….].

Roger Lewis came to praise Jenkins having carried out the necessary act of sacred execution on behalf of a betrayed nation.

‘This decisive decision was made on behalf of Welsh rugby, but also on behalf of Gareth Jenkins’.

Sorry. Didn’t quite get that. The bit about doing it for Gareth who had indicated he wanted to carry on in his job, so that he could learn from the World Cup experience, and rebuild shattered morale. The ‘ decisive decision’ might have been what was best for Gareth, but he hadn’t quite reacted as decisively as the WRU officials. Maybe that’s it.

The official action is not without some justification. The team did not seem particularly well prepared for the violence and commitment of the Fijians. Jenkins had earned himself some wriggle-room after a poor set of performances of the team on his watch, and had asked to be judged on the team’s performance at the World Cup. Other voices were already calling for his resignation.

But maybe there’s something else. It was the manner of the statement. If this was the annoucement of a religious-type act of atonement, a sacred execution, it would have been better carried out by high priests, themselves of stainless reputation. (Yes, the ‘football as religion’ idea has more than surface credibility).

NLWYMMD and NIGYSOB

Cultural theorists and psychologists talk about the nature of scapegoating. How under times of fear and uncertainty, the veneer of rationality disappears. Problem-solving becomes a matter of denial. One indicator is a tendency to avoid close examination of one’s own responsibility for the emerging situation.

The once-popular transactional analysis captured it as Games People Play

Among the mind games I was taught to recognize included NLWYMMD and NIGYSOB. ‘Now look what you’ve made me do’, and ‘Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch’.

Sorry Gareth, but you did force us to do this, with your pledge to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The statements on behalf of the WRU just reminded me to much of those old catch-phrases. If events continue to threaten the competence of the WRU leaders, there may well’ have to be some more sacrifices ‘for the good of those led away’

The urge to be seen to act decisively seems to be found as much in those who panic, as among those rare leaders who see they have reached a time when decisive action is needed.

Strange how I can’t get those other events in Burma completely out of my mind. The Generals and their ‘explanations’ of the steps needed to protect the people from dissidents and false leaders. Situations when the sacrifices have been literal not metaphoric in nature.


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