Rugby: career lessons from Wales v England

Friday, February 13th, 2009 - cardiff jobs, career management, career planning

Career Planning

Career Management

Tomorrow will be a big day in Cardiff. The entire Welsh economy for 2009 will be decided on by how much 15 hero’s in red crush 15 poorly organised blokes in Persil laundered white shirts. Seriously, it means that much to the Welsh spirit to be able to have won against the English, and whether you are female – or a sheep – I wouldn’t want to be on Queen Street tomorrow evening without adequate Police protection.

However, that aside, will tomorrow see another chapter turn in the failure of England’s “old farts” as Will Carling termed them to find a replacement coach for Sir Clive Woodward since 2003? They have had such a succession turnover, and now set up first time coach Martin Johnson for a fall, it is almost tragic.

The England team of 2003 were not the best, they were just well organised around their strengths: big, powerful, experienced, pack protecting a good but not great three quarter line, in the middle of which was a world class kicker at the top of his game. Since that time, most of the 15 have retired or been blighted by injury, taking away all that experience. Woodward also had a particularly scientific style – he didn’t really coach the team, he managed the people who did and played a strategy: kick us 10+ points ahead, then if the gaps start opening, possibly run the ball. If we fall back to a 5point lead, start kicking again.

His replacement Andy Robinson from 2004 wasn’t scientific. Bath trained and bread – and therefore the best – his natural style was that of an earlier England manager Jack Rowell, who was highly involved with the players. But Robinson, who had not been successful at Bath and was sacked as team coach, was an easy choice successor to Woodward. However, the same failings in his Bath team appeared in his England team, and he was dismissed.

Brian Ashton came into do a 12months special before the 2007 Worldcup. A Lancastrian brought up in Rugby League territory who had chosen the southern code of Rugby Union, is known as an old school attacking coach. OK, there was much that was not good in a modern Rugby Union game style that borrows much from Rugby League in Ashton’s game play, but he did at last get England playing. His style was simple – if in doubt, go forward, move and pass. So simple in fact it was easy to communicate and got England to a World Cup final.

Then, the old farts agenda came in again. In planning for the 2011 Worldcup, they decided that Ashton was too old and didn’t back him. The players knew this, and didn’t really perform. Summary: poor strategy, no management, dissention = losses. having taken so long to plan, they missed out on the best coach available – the brilliant New Zealander, Warren Gatland – and couldn’t take the decision like the England football team to employ a “foreign” coach. The fact Gatland was the best was neither here nor there, they wanted an English coach.

And unfortunatly, after being turned down formally or informally by many, pressure came to bare on Johnson. Johnson was a man like Kevin Keegan who had good not great natural skill, but made the best of it through training. Early in his career, he played American football, and played two seasons in New Zealand, even playing for the New Zealand under-21 side. The guy was world class as a player. But he’s a fresh coach, and at international level, that will tell.

Johnson should have said no, and learnt from the coach on the opposite bench tomorrow, Warren Gatland. After a record number of games for Waikato, he spent ten years across four clubs in the northern hemisphere before leading Ireland to a poor Worldcup in 1999. He then moved to Wasps where under a more basic style they won three consecutive Zurich Premiership titles (2003, 2004 and 2005) and the Heineken Cup in 2004. He then returned to Waikato taking them instantly to a title, before joining the Super Chiefs as technical director. Post Worldcup 2007, he made it clear he wanted to return to international rugby – and Wales came calling.

Tomorrow, watch Gatland’s team play a simple “pressure” style rugby – easy to communicate, easy to play. You put the ball where the other guys are weak, and out number them. Before they play the ball out wide, expect three+ phases of pressure in the centre to drag the opposing sides three quarters into the centre, and create a power point on the outside. When you have at least four high-speed players in your side, points are bound to come.

So, what’s the summary of tomorrow? Wales should win, it’s probably just a question of by how much. If England lose by less than 20 points, Johnson will survive – probably in an old fart adjusted set-up. By 30points and he’s probably out.

But the great point here, is that sport has many learning points for business. Consistent personal goals and planning lead to success – for Woodward as a coach, for Johnson as a player, for Wales as a team and country; and when things go wrong, learning and going back to basics counts – hence Gatland’s pressure play style.

The problem is, even now, can anyone see England getting close to a Worldcup in 2011? Poor at strategy but great at making decisions, biting the bullet to fire Johnson could make them closer as did the brilliant Brian Ashton in 2007. But I am not sure how Johnson’s career as a coach would be able to progress. And that is probably the greatest loss tomorrow – his out clause was always going to be downwards, it was just a question of when/by which method. So early in his career is tragic loss to all of rugby

Good Luck!

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3 Responses to “Rugby: career lessons from Wales v England”

  1. Alex Hens Says:

    Great post.

    Think you’re a little wrong about the World Cup. My recollection was that Ashton was getting it very wrong and the old guard players decided to forget his plans and revert to what they new – which with some pride and passion pulled out of the changing room got them (deservedly) to the final.

    Part of the problem with England and British sport in general, is the short term mindset. It wasn’t acceptable for Johnson to come in and say it would take 2-3 seasons to get the team he wanted playing how he wanted – so he, like his predecessors, gets his hand forced. Build a team but ensure you’re winning at least most games as you do it.

    When you play as badly as Wales have in the past slipped to then (but only just) you get a bit more slack to build from scratch – especially if you’re as frank a talker as Gatland.

    Anyway – here’s hoping for a humdinger of a game. But if the selection of Worsely and no specialist no7 comes off as I hope it will (being a Welshman) then to me that selection decision would prove to nearly be up there with the Mallet/Bergamasco farce, so perhaps that is indeed showing Johnson’s lack of coaching experience (which I completely agree with you about too) and maybe it is better for him to cut his losses and run to return again a more astute tactitioner of the game some time in the future.

  2. Alex Hens Says:

    happy (especially because we won) to eat my words. It was actually a great strategy to give Worsely the job Johnson gave him and he was certainly the man for it. Was frustrated why Wales seemed unable to find the gap that moving him into the centre to mark Roberts must have left closer to the pack, or that they didn’t better target the gap behind the England rush defence – but just like England the week before last against the Italians, we’ll take a win however it comes, especially when against the English.

  3. gry planszowe Says:

    very interesting site, i have bookmarked your blog for future reference, thanks

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