Aging Lions maul coach Warren Gatland

June 19, 2017

Warren Gatland

 

In advance of Saturday’s test match against New Zealand’s All Blacks, [scheduled 24 June 2017] Warren Gatland, the coach of the British and Irish Lions is mauled in a bitter attack by Rugby Union pundits around the world, including former Lion players

Gatland’s heinous blunder

His crime? Dealing with a series of injuries to his squad, Gatland made the decision to call up additional support from members of the Welsh and Scottish teams, touring in the region.

A storm of protest burst out, led by England coach Eddie Jones, whose team is touring in Argentina, half way around the world. The headline Eddie Jones says what we have all been thinking about Gatland’s supposed call-ups sums up the nature of the ‘debate’.

Revenge attacks?

I was struck by both the ferocity and uniformity of the attacks. Gatland had triggered an avalanche of criticism. In some ways, this can be traced to disenchantment with Gatland, who will resume his role as coach to the Welsh national team after the tour.  Accusations of bias have followed Gatland from the outset of this tour against the world champions, who are odds-on favourites to win the three-test series.

His original selections were viewed as biased in favour of players he knew and trusted from Wales, and why strong candidates from England were omitted. The objections were mostly from the English media. Garland was criticized for Nationalistic bias, an ironic charge for someone of New Zealand not Newport Gwent roots.

Players omitted from the England squad were outspoken.

During the few weeks of the tour in June, tour criticism of Gatland built up. The coach was put on the defensive.

The emotional argument

So, returning the six replacements, the emotional argument against the extra six players can be summarized simply. Commentator after commentator echoed it:

 

“The decision devalues the Lions’ shirt

 

Few seemed to find it necessary to add (as Gatland found it necessary to point out) that the decision was reached  after long discussions by the international management coaching team of the Lions. Nor was there comment on how these players the pundits dismissed as not fit to wear the shirt might react, if their team mates on their arrival treated them as second-class citizens.

Historical baggage?

There seemed a lot of historical baggage about the media treatment of the story. For example:

England’s former Lion Jeremy Guscott found headlines in a half-time roasting of the Welsh team against Japan in the last World Cup. In particular, he blasted the Lions on the pitch.  Ironically, Wales upped their game against Japan, and Japan contributed to a display which led to the humiliation of England on home soil and the eventual appointment of new coach Eddie Jones.

Returning to the present controversy, even a Welsh rugby great has weighed in.

Jonathan Davies is a much-loved national figure who has suffered hardships and tragedy in his personal life with fortitude and public grace. His views are generally forthright and honest. He again took the devaluing the Lion shirt line.

Putting my frayed academic nightcap and bed socks on, and supping my Ovaltine, I suspect each player is demonstrating the core issue of social identity. Pundit Guscott now preserves his aura of greatness earned as a Lion through the symbolism of the brand. Davies never achieved the honour of playing for the Lions, as he made the painful decision to leave the amateur game of Rugby Union to support his family as a rugby league player, returning later as professionalism entered the Union code.

Gatland’s stubborn streak

There is a well-known streak of stubbornness about Gatland, although no more than the one apparent in the public pronouncements of Eddie Jones.

The test series may well be lost to the mighty All Blacks. If so, it would be helpful to conduct post-mortems in a more clinical fashion than the ‘expert’ diagnoses to date.

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Why England Rugby is still in denial

November 16, 2015

Warren Gatland

England Rugby is still recovering from its World Cup performances and the sacking of head coach Stuart Lancaster. Media conversations illustrate the point

The agonies of England’ s Rugby Union defeats in the World Cup may not have been lessened by the splendid victory of its Rugby League team yesterday in its International Series against New Zealand.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Saturday October 3

After losing to Wales, England’s woes continue. They become first hosts to crash out of the World Cup of Rugby at the pool stage.

Sunday October 18

Australia narrowly beat Scotland with controversial late refereeing decision.

Saturday October 31

All Blacks defeat Australia to retain World Cup in memorable style.


Warren Gatland: Rugby’s effective answer to charismatic leadership

June 26, 2013

Warren GatlandThe Lion’s tour of Australia has thrust their coach Warren Gatland into the media spotlight. His appearance and actions demonstrate that effectiveness in a leader does not necessarily require a charismatic style

Warren Gatland has appeared in literally hundreds of news items during the Lion’s rugby tour of Australia. Dozens of commentators have offered their views of his strategic decisions. I have not come across any that have implied he is a charismatic leader. Nor had I come across severe criticism of the effectiveness of his decision-making in the areas of team selection and match preparation and tactics until the announcement [2nd July 2013] of the team to play the final and series-determining test match.

Effective and non-charismatic

That leads me to conclude that he is widely perceived as both highly effective and non-charismatic. Someone surfing the Leaders We Deserve site recently was searching for evidence that Gatland might be transactional in leadership style. He can show both transactional and transformational elements in his comments about players and their motivations.

His low-key press performances suggest that he is has an uncomplicated way of understanding the needs of his players which avoids the dangers of showing favouritism. This was important, because Gatland had coached the successful Welsh squad to success prior to the tour, and will resume duties after it. Journalists from the other Rugby playing countries England, Scotland and the combined Irish territories might have hinted at favouritism in selection. Gatland’s frank press conferences may have contributed to avoiding that criticism. The evidence is that he has largely addressed the dangers of demotivated ‘second class citizens’ playing only in the provincial games. This has bedevilled earlier tours including the one coached by [Sir] Clive Woodward.

Kicking out the box

I don’t like to capture leadership style as a fixed and unitary trait. Style is better (in my judgement) treated as a description of an important pattern of behaviour that may change with circumstances. That incidentally is the basis of situational leadership theory which suggests just that, offering style as variable according to circumstances or contingencies. Beware of boxing people into one fixed style of behaviour.

Level five leadership

I have written in the past about level five leaders in sport, a term attributed to Jim Collins. The theory is that charismatics have powerful influencing skills, but tend to be tripped up by their own ego. Level five leadership has been described as demonstrated by those who show fierce resolve with less intrusion of personal ego. Which may suit what we have seen of Warren Gatland recently. But I hope that assessment is not the same as putting him into a conceptual box.

I write this still uncertain if the Lions will win the three match test series. The outcome will not impact on the evidence of Gatland’s effectiveness or style.

Hero to zero?

The Warren Gatland story hit the headlines internationally through his selection decisions for the final test. The series decider took place after a one-point loss by the Lions in the second match. Gatland made several changes. These would have been controversial as the starting XV contained no Scottish representatives and ten players from Wales the country Gatland now coaches. But the most shocking omission was that of BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) Irish legend who would have been playing in hist last Lions test match. Gatland, it is worth noticing, was a successful coach of Ireland’s national team in the past. He had noticed and nurtured O’Driscoll’s great talent.

The selection was widely criticized, provoking bitterness and anger in the judgements of such authorities as Sottish commentator Ian Robertson, and by former Irish commentator Keith Wood. I found the hundreds of comments in web-discussion sites both depressing and enlightening. Fury and anger was directed towards Gatland. The most widespread comments were that he was an inept decision-maker, following a dubious strategy which involved picking his ‘own’ Welsh players. (Gatland is from New Zealand, incidentally, the country most fiercely competitive against Australia.). One more balanced comment reminded us that Gatland is notoriously unsentimental in his decision-making. At the start of the Lion’s tour he left behind Sean Edwards, his [English} coach to the Welsh team’s backs. Edwards Felt ‘gutted’ about the decision.

The most revealing comments indicate that Gatland should be judged on whether the Lions win the final test. I have explained above why I think that is a poor way of assessing a leader’s capabilities. But I welcome comments from LWD subscribers.


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


England 19: Ospreylia 26

February 3, 2008

james-hook-bbc.jpg
The sport headlines declared that a club team representing Wales had won a famous Rugby Union victory against an England team that had been world champions, and more recently runners-up, in the last two world championships. What happened? How did it come about? And are there any lessons to be learned about leadership, team spirit, and that mysterious sporting phenomenon of momentum?

Saturday February 2nd 2008.

The Six Nations Rugby tournament kicked off with England home against Wales. Even in Wales, the faithful prepared themselves for the worse. The days when Wales had been a major international force at Rugby were retreating into mythology. In the intervening period (to make things worse) England rugby had advanced until even the most grudging Welsh supporter acknowledged a gulf in quality and strength in depth. Wales had not won at Twickenham for two decades.

A few months ago, Wales and England both began the Rugby World Cup. Wales were eliminated in the first stage. And England improved and improved. Wales retreated to lick their wounds, and to ditch the hapless coaching team. They also had in mind appointing much-rated coach Warren Gatland from New Zealand.

So hasty were they to make a fresh start, that the Welsh Rugby Union accepted that their preferred candidate would be unable to start work with the team until the 2008 competitive season was nearly underway.

Gatland wanted to bring with him an English defensive coach. Unheard of. But his pick was Shaun Edwards another top class coach who had shared success with Gatland in the past. Ironically, Edwards would have liked a post within the England set-up, but had not been able to agree terms.

Making the best of a bad job

So the likely lads arrived in town too late to make a difference to a dispirited Welsh squad. Then, an ingenious and daring selection decision. Gatland had no time to weigh up strengths and weaknesses of every player in every club throughout the land. But one Welsh premier team, the Ospreys, had been performing well (albeit hardly spectacularly) at international and regional levels.

The Welsh squad was announced, and the astonishing news was that there would be 13 of the starting 15 players from that one club team. The shock can be seen against the fact that the previous record was for 10 players (from the once dominant Cardiff club, some sixty years earlier). England, with more clubs to draw from, had managed seven players on a few occasions.

‘Don’t expect miracles’

Whatever Gatland told the players, he went out of his way to warn the Welsh Nation not to expect miracles. Good move, although unsurprising.

What happened next?

By general agreement, the game began as everyone expected. The mighty English outscored and overpowered the less muscular Welsh team. At half-time, Wales were clearly hanging on, close to collapse into humiliation. The 16-6 score concealed several opportunities lost by England to add to their score.

Then a miracle?

Maybe. What was observed was a rather sudden shift from England ‘almost’ administering a knock-out, to a team showing signs of poor tactical decisions, poor execution, and an evident drop in energy. Major figures had been injured in the frenzied first half, but the replacements seemed more than adequate to continue the demolition.

Wales cut out the elementary errors that had compounded their problems in the first half.

England continued to rely on power, when they were running on empty. And ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’. But power had stopped working. And there didn’t seem to be a plan B.

Wales scrabbled back some of the lead to 19-12. A nice move by Hook from half-back created a try to draw the score. More flustered play, by (of all people Jonny Wilkinson) and a second try in short order.

It’s all over

Commentators were now saying that England had lost all momentum. That mysterious force. They were doomed. I was not particularly convinced. But so it came about. The out-muscled Welsh forwards proceeded to out-muscle the former bullies.

Miracles and momentum

Let’s get the sporting clichés out of the way first. The Welsh/Ospreys team went in at half-time like little boys lost, and came out roaring and spitting. What a great team-talk that must have been by Gatland and Edwards. Except, we don’t know. When interviewed, the Welsh players either couldn’t remember, or were not saying. It’s a team effort, they repeated, as if brainwashed. It’s all the players and all the coaching squad together.

But the players on the field ‘just knew’ that England were wilting, just like the commentators knew.

And the adoring Welsh fans are well on the way to hailing an unusual pair of incomers as Great Redeemers to guide them with a powerful hand.

It left England’s coach Brian Ashton bemused. We need some time to reflect on it, he said.

And so do I.

Post Mortem

After the match Gatland gave a revealing interview to the BBC. He again attempted to lower expectations, and talked of the decision to select so many players from one club.

“I know from experience with club sides it is going to take 12 months, two years to turn this side into a good side… Saturday was a starting point but to be a good side we have got a hell of a lot of improving to do ..so don’t expect miracles in a few weeks.

I am not saying that is going to be the case for next week, but I could have easily have taken a bit of pressure off myself by picking two or three others [non Ospreys]. But I believed that was the right decision for that game……The hard decision was picking as many as we did, and having the composure to do it knowing that people would comment on it.”