The Weekend Read: 13 – Winning by Clive Woodward

Topical enough, as the Autumn International Rugby circus reaches its conclusion with Wales the only team to beat southern hemisphere opposition.

So perhaps it’s a good time to take another look at this book from the man who facilitated what is arguable England’s greatest sporting triumph since 1966. As a Welshman (albeit with an Irish passport) I had little to cheer about in recent years whilst following the national sport. Living in rugby mad Gloucestershire I watched the English triumph in Sydney in 2003 with my teeth (complete with their new fixed appliances) gritted and have endured the patronising comments ever since.

However I am enough of a fan to appreciate how good that collection of players was and to admire the way that they were prepared and conditioned, not only for that campaign, but for the several years leading to Australia using concepts taken from the world of business. It is for that reason that I suggest you read this as there are lessons for every business owner.

Sir Clive’s book is a very readable account from his appointment to the top job in 1997, including a lesson in how not to do an induction, “Office? Secretary? What do you need a secretary for Clive? You’re a coach; your place is out on the pitch with players. He shares with us the highs and lows of the way to the winning of the Webb Ellis trophy, including falling at the final hurdle in several Grand Slam attempts and the disappointment at being beaten by South Africa (with drop goals) in the quarter final in Paris in 1999.

I think what makes Woodward different from a lot of other coaches in sport is his willingness to do whatever is necessary, however unorthodox, to improve the team’s performance. Never afraid to change the organisation of his ‘back-room’ staff or to bring in assistance from outside what would be considered the normal sporting establishment he gave his players every last piece of assistance in order for them to perform on the field.

Certainly England had underperformed at rugby for generations, they have the largest playing base of any country in the world several times greater than New Zealand and Australia (where Rugby Union is the third or fourth most popular sport behind Aussie Rules and Rugby League). England also had the financial clout to prepare teams, but the decision makers were amateur ‘the 57 old farts in blazers’ as Will Carling once famously said. Woodward wasn’t afraid to challenge this committee bound top echelon and ultimately it provided his undoing, realising that in order to take English Rugby forward needed more commitment from the RFU and constant improvement then when that was refused he was left with little choice but to walk away.

My copy of the book ends with him preparing to take the British Lions on tour to New Zealand, a tour that was disastrous both on and off the pitch; the Test matches were lost, the captain was injured in the opening minutes of the first test, several players returned home and missed large amounts of time because of injuries picked up on the trip. Many other players were either taken when clearly unfit or were selected because they had been part of a World Cup winning squad rather than a more recent Grand Slam winning one.

During ‘Winning’ Clive is clear to point out that it is important to take the long view and that it takes time to prepare, so perhaps he wasn’t the right man to lead a squad from four countries and to mould them in such a short space of time. Having been an insistent critic of Graham Henry who coached the previous Lions tour to Australia and narrowly lost the series, I am sure Sir Clive learned many lessons during his short trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud, not least of which is how hard the job is when you are THE man.

England have struggled since Sir Clive moved on, it seems perhaps that the one thing he didn’t do, in Covey terms, was to leave a legacy. Available from my Amazon store: here.

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