The Rugby World Cup 2015. How Wales beat England with a little help from Japan

September 27, 2015

Wales rugby ball

September 26 2015 Wales 28 England 25

The statistics suggest it was a close match. It was more than that. It produced a tale of a glorious last minute triumph by a team cruelly depleted by injuries and facing exit from the World Cup

[This post is updated for the duration of the Rugby World Cup of 2015]

I might one day be able to write a balanced evaluation of the match, if only for discussion about the leadership lessons contained in it. For the moment I can only put down first impressions.

Four years ago, a young Welsh team battled to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. Their captain Sam Warburton made an instinctive impetuous tackle against a French opponent which led to his instant dismissal from the field. Wales lost narrowly. France lost easily to the New Zealand all blacks in the final.

The Group of Death

Four years later the core of the Welsh team, now more experienced, found themselves playing in the 2015 competition, hosted by England but with a small number of matches played in Wales. They had been drawn in what was in sporting cliché terms the Group of Death, with three strong teams, Australia, England together with Wales, as well as two weaker (or at least lower ranked) teams Fiji and Uruguay.

The all play all format among the five teams meant that one of the favourites had to be eliminated at the end of the pool stage. From the moment the draw was made, the match between England and Wales was seen as potentially crucial.

The England team had showed promise in the run up to the tournament. They also had the advantage of playing in their national stadium at Twickenham. Australia also arrived in good form and was seen as one of the top three teams, behind World Champions New Zealand, and a powerful South African team from a country that had already won two world cups. Wales were regarded as strong enough to cause trouble, but likely to be eliminated unless they were able to beat one of England or Australia.

The Welsh preparation campaign under the wily chief coach Warren Gatland had stuttered with injuries to several key players. Then in a warm-up match a few weeks before the tournament, the loss of more players, including their world-class goal kicker Leigh Halfpenny.

The England team had also suffered injury withdrawals from their first match against Fiji. The coaching team led by Stuart Lancaster had to find a plan B against Wales. The decisions inevitably aroused criticisms. Lancaster had selected the highly talented but inexperienced Burgess, a recent recruit from Rugby League. For understandable reasons, Lancaster also decided to start with a specialist goal kicker replacing one of the team’s more imaginative playmakers.

The match begins

The evening match was played before a capacity crowd. England was seen as favourite to win even by Welsh rugby supporters and commentators.

The match itself was tense partly for its importance to the teams, and partly because it was close, and with errors from both teams. England seemed physically stronger and edged ahead. A defensive error from Wales, and England powered over the line for a slick well-executed try. Then Wales sustained more sickening injuries. Liam Williams at full back replacing Halfpenny was stretchered off. Several more replacements were needed as backs and forwards were battered out of the game.

At half time, England had a  ten point advantage, and had nearly stretched the lead further. England just have to stick to their plan, Sir Clive Woodward declared, speaking from the commentary box. His reputation as as a coach was earned for his success with England’s famous World Cup winning team of 2002. I supposed he was right, even if it he did sound a bit smug. Had he lost that sense of the danger that might come from a wounded and desperate opponent?

The England team did not quite stick to what they were doing. In the second half, England substitutes were brought on to finish off the depleted Welsh team. Then a sneak attack from Wales and a try not unlike England’s first half effort. Wales were clawing their way back.

With time running out, it became clear that Wales were fighting harder. England were not exactly holding on, but seemed inclined to protect their narrow lead. As happens, defense is not always the best form of attack. Another flurry of penalties and Wales actually grab a three-point lead.

Two minutes to go. England has to score to even out the match. They are awarded a kickable penalty which would have drawn the game. The England captain Robshaw picked the ball up and gestured to the referee and to his goal kicker to go for the corner flag with possibility of a subsequent last-minute try bringing victory.

The crowd is roaring England on to victory as their forwards advance to within five meters of the Wales goal line.  From the lineout, England secures the ball and prepares to batter their fatigued opponents out of the way as they advance over the line. But the the attacking move as the Wales players hurl themselves ferociously into the maul and drive players and ball  into touch. Wales have only seconds to secure the ball from their lineout throw and the game is won.

The ball is thrown, and is cleanly held by Wales. Time now plays its relativity trick, but the electronic scorecard moves remorselessly on. The referee blows for time. England have found a way of losing. a game that they were winning, and a minute earlier could have drawn. What had been witnessed was sheer anger and fury uncorked and directed against not England but against injustice and cruel fate.

Those players still standing sink to the ground, before the red-shirted ones find enough energy to revive and celebrate.

Déjà vu

Let me have a moment of sheer speculation. This was not the match that this World Cup will be remembered for, outside Wales and perhaps England. That had taken place when the Japanese team won an incredible game against the mighty South African team.

Two minutes to go, and Japan had a penalty award. Kicking it would result in a draw. Or the Japanese captain could elect to go for the win. The situation was similar to the one that changed the result of the England Wales game.

Here is my speculation. The Japanese captain won global respect for his courage in risking a loss seeking the win. Might Chris  Robshaw have been thinking about that glorious moment, as he made his own fateful decision? Does he even know himself?

Can’t believe what I saw

The ITV cameras switched to the studio. Outside, various bodies could still be seen recovering on the floodlit grass. Sir Clive Woodward and his greatest warrior Jonny Wilkinson stared glassy-eyed into space. What do you make of that Clive, the presenter asked. Sir Clive struggled for words. Shocked, he eventually replied weakly. Can’t believe what I just saw.

You will, Sir Clive, you will eventually.

Updates start here

Wednesday September 30
Wales will suffer from the injuries occurred against England.
The squad named for the next game against Fiji on Thursday October 1 includes three forced changes, and more players out of position.

Fiji has lost its two initial games but have completed well. Also, they have a brand of power play that might produce even more injuries. The one consolation for Wales is that Fiji has lost their most potent rampaging player, 20 stone Nemani Nadolo, banned for foul play against Australia.

How to avoid bad chess positions and what to do next when you find yourself in one

September 21, 2015

Tudor Rickards This post was prepared for a chess talk to members of East Cheshire Chess Club. It may be of interest to club-level players or parents who are increasingly being beaten up by their children at the game of chess. With a little ‘translation’, it may also have value as a guide to strategy and leadership as has been indicated in earlier posts

Anyone who wanders around our chess club during a match will know I get into bad positions, and sometimes get out of trouble. It’s not because I don’t know how to avoid bad positions, it is more that I break rules I was taught as a schoolboy.

Here are the rules I break, and why that is usually a bad thing. I also suggest what to try if you still break them, and find yourself in a bad position.

Rule 1.  Do not fall behind in development

This means do not move the same piece frequently, when other pieces remain in their original positions.

Rule 2. Don’t move pawns without thinking about where the opponent will attack the pawns

Pawns can’t move backwards.  When you move a pawn try to visualize your ‘chain’ of pawns, how the structure may persist, and how it may be broken.  The great Nimzowich teaches us how to attack pawn chains at the weakest point.

Rule 3. Beware of simplifying moves

Unless you are winning, you should avoid simplifying exchanges. More  often than not, exchanges favour the second player.  (Check this out on your games with a Search Engine. See how the advantage swings.)

Rule 4. Calculate most carefully when you think the position has become complicated

Some positions do not need a lot of calculations. For example, if your opponent has been playing the moves you expected. These are balanced positions, with pawns defended,  pieces coordinated.  Decide on how to strengthen the position.  Coordinate pieces to avoid under-protection, and over-burdened pieces. These are where tactics come in.

Rule 5. Practice Plan B

A plan B might be a change of strategy. If you have made a mistake you may need to find a plan that you hadn’t thought of. For example, sometimes if you lose  a pawn it leaves your opponent’s position slightly weakened. Look how to exploit it as if you made a pawn sacrifice.

Remember most games have chances for the player with an inferior position.  A losing game is different from a lost game. Your opponents may relax waiting for the game to be over in their favour

Rule 6.  Avoid time trouble

Try To make safe and simple ‘holding’ moves when you are in a familiar position, to keep up with your opponent’s time.  If you do get into time trouble, try to anticipate your opponent’s move and use your opponent’s time.  If you have guessed his or her move, reply quickly.

Rule 7.  Move quickly, but not too quickly

However careful you are, you will sometimes move too quickly. There are various bits of advice that can help. I found this on avoiding blunders useful not just for beginners.

Other things worth thinking about

In a series of exchanges, watch out for zwischenzug moves (intermediate moves that can ruin a combination).

If you have no obvious move, then you need to see what  candidate moves you can think of.  If you are thinking of breaking principles, be more careful.

There are many useful suggestions about avoiding blunders.  This article is worth studying.

Comments welcomed for other tips about blunders and how to avoid them.

Margaret Heffernan’s model of ‘super chickens’ will change the way we think about leadership

August 26, 2015


In a recent article in Real Business the author and academic Margaret Heffernan reports on work that challenges conventional wisdom of leadership and team effectiveness.

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Theresa May arrives to lead the fight against invaders

August 24, 2015

thatchertankTheresa May arrives to lead her border troops into action in the battle of Calais. Comparisons with Margaret Thatcher are irresistible. But will her admiration for Geoffrey Boycott be career-limiting?

The Home Secretary has avoided the rather blood-curdling descriptions of ‘swarms’ of migrants ‘breaking in’ to our country, as favoured by The Prime Minister. Today, [August 20th, 2015] however, she takes the initiative from Mr Cameron with a visit revealing details of a plan to deal with what the BBC calls The Calais Migrant crisis.

Reading Theresa’s intentions

The role of Home Secretary requires the holder to survive periods of public invisibility interspersed with possible career-threatening high profile decisions. The job also carries with it healthy aspirations to move into the top job.

So, some statement such as “I have great pleasure in serving my country under our beloved leader than whom there is not nor has there ever been an equal for wisdom, integrity, and fragrance literally and metaphorically” may be taken to mean “you bet your bobbly bits I’m ready to take over, the moment I get the signal that the time is right to give the heave-ho to that spineless apology for a leader “.

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Sisters Act starring Katy Perry and the Los Filiz nuns

July 5, 2015

Katy PerryLeadership stories come in all shapes and sizes.  One example this week is from a small group of nuns who took the initiative in securing their own future by ignoring the wishes of  their institutional leaders by rejecting a bid from celebrity singer Katy Perry

According to The Independent:

 A legal firework [pun on Perry’s musical act] has been set off in Los Feliz, California, after a group of elderly nuns sold their former convent to a local businesswoman against the wishes of the Los Angeles archdiocese – all to prevent the property being bought by the pop megastar, Katy Perry.

The hilltop property in question has been empty since 2011, when the five surviving Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary were relocated to nearby retirement homes.

The following year, Ms Perry expressed an interest in making the building her home and, according to the Los Angeles Times, recently agreed a $14.5m (£9.2m) sale with the archdiocese. The sisters, however, argue that the property is theirs to sell – and they don’t want it to be bought by the singer.

And so, two weeks ago – and without the approval of the archdiocese – the nuns sold the property to restaurateur and bar owner Dana Hollister.

The sisters of The Immaculate Heart first bought the estate in 1972 from a Catholic philanthropist who offered them a hefty discount. The archdiocese, led by LA Archbishop José Gomez, agrees that the proceeds should go towards the care of the five surviving nuns, all aged between 77 and 88.


Leadership: The Movie

The story has all the attractions of a Hollywood movie in which a group of feisty retired nuns take on the powers of the established church in rejecting the advances of a wealthy buyer.

But will Katie Perry turn out to be the heroine in the last scene, rescuing the nuns from designs of the dastardly Dana?

When the FIFA storm breaks: Blattergate Week twoSeptember 20 2015 Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary has run foul of investigations into corruption that have rumbled on for months. He has been suspended by Fifa, an action taken by Sepp Blatter, supported by other top officials. Mr Blatter is defending his own position as defender of FIFA’s integrity and points to a few rogue individuals to be rooted out. Valcke is the latest FIFA executive identified by President Blatter as someone whose removal separates out those wrong-doers from his own blameless position September 24 2015 The echoes of Watergate persist. Layer by layer, the investigations get closer to the top man. A FIFA meeting is interrupted, computers seized and Blatter placed under official investigation by officials of the Swiss Attorney General.

June 4, 2015

The storm around FIFA reaches a new intensity as President Sepp Batter prepares to step down, and revelations of corruption by Supergrass Chuck Blazer are made public IMG_1409

3rd June 2015

Three days after his defiant acceptance of reappointment as President, Sepp Blatter stands down ‘in the interests of the organization’. What might have changed?

The news came in a rapidly-convened and unexpected press conference. Blatter The President suggested that his change of mind was a result of realizing his appointment was unacceptable to players, fans and to others in the great game of football.

He also indicated he would drive through the radical changes needed. This is if anything is as implausible now than when he made similar claims on his reappointment. His statement has presented a dilemma to an incoming leader and others in and outside FIFA. How will a new leader have freedom to introduce independent change if the outgoing leader is intent on initiating the process?
This suggests that Mr Blatter will not be able to cling to this proposed interim position.

The Tipping Point?

Consensus among commentators is that a critical incident has occurred maybe in the last few hours prior to the press conference. The emerging criminal investigations, particularly from the United States, are producing the butterfly wing flap that triggered the storm.

Another possible explanation is favored in an article in the Independent. This involved a bribery claim before the vote which appointed South Africa to hold the 2010 World Cup.

The Guardian suggested that Blatter had been urged by close aides to change his decision. A possible trigger point came from reports from America that Blatter was among those to be investigated for money laundering and tax evasion.

June 4th 2015

The storm breaks

LWD correspondent Paul Hinks noted:

As we keep saying, there will be more to come from this story. Suspect we’ll hear more from the accused, Blatter himself maybe dragged into the corruption allegations and questioned.

I keep thinking about President Bush’s reference to ‘Axis of evil’ … perhaps Blatter had an ‘Axis of evil’ or and ‘Axis of corruption’ that underpinned his power play.

I heard on Radio 4’s news this morning that Greg Dyke has suggested that FIFA bring in forensic accountants to go through FIFA’s books and trace the ‘lost’ funds? Good idea; FIFA desperately need to rebuild and regain trust; not easily achieved.

There’s also a nagging part of me that wants to recognise the good in Blatter’s (/FIFA’s) vision to encourage football development in countries like Africa … it’s just Blatter failed the ethics test in attempting to realise his goal.

Now [June 4th 2015] there’s the breaking news that Chuck Blazer [FIFA exec and US Supergrass] knew about the bribes: Fifa crisis: Ex-official Chuck Blazer details bribe-taking

June 8th 2015

FIFA official says that evidence of corrupt practices in the bidding process may be result in new votes for 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

June 11th 2015

Unconfirmed reports that Sepp Blatter is reconsidering stepping down.

European Parliament to intervene in FIFA constitutional crisis, and asks Mr Blatter to step down.

July 16th 2015

Various stories have developed in the last month concerning FIFA officials facing charges over financial dealings and corrupt practices. FIFA returns for first meeting since May to consider radical reforms.

July 20th 2015

BBC story that Michel Platini has been asked to stand as next president of FIFA, with adequate support from all FIFA regions.

To be continued

The Incomparable Richie Benaud (1930-2015)

April 10, 2015

Baggy green capAfter a successful career as a cricketer, Richie Benaud gave pleasure to countless fans around the world for his affectionate and unique broadcasting style.

As he matured, his walnut-brown crumbled face to camera resembled an extension of the baggy-green cap as a symbol of Australian  cricket.

Towards the end of his life, he endured accidents and bad health stoically.

Obituaries this week made comparisons with other cricketers and commentators.  

He is ranked with his compatriot Bradman for influencing the success of Australian cricket. Similarities have been notedwith Mike Brearley for his  astute  captaincy, with John Arlott as a warm and empathic commentator, and with   Geoff Boycott, (without the spiky narcissism) as a reader of the game.

Comparisons may help a little in  our understanding of his achievements and facets of his personality.  They can do little more.  Richie Benaud the man remains incomparable.


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