What Lessons Can England Learn From The Rugby World Cup?


England Rugby crashed out of their own World Cup during the group stage, after defeats to Wales and Australia. Of course, the media echoes the public’s disappointment. It is full of recriminations and keen to hunt down the culprits. Whilst that might vent some frustration, perhaps it is more valuable to look for the powerful lessons that accompany this experience.

I’ve spent the last few years studying World Class Teams in a wide variety of disciplines; including world champion sports teams, SAS units, Red Arrows teams, Formula One pit crews and racing yacht crews. Interestingly, they all share a set of common characteristics, which allows them to develop incredible levels of teamwork and consistently deliver world class performance.

For example, world class teams understand the importance of continuity. They know that teamwork doesn’t develop by chance. Former Americas Cup helmsman, Andy Beadsworth, explained that it requires, “time on the water”. To develop great teamwork, a team needs time together. They need to encounter challenges together… solve problems together… see each other in tough situations, together. This is the only way that players develop a deep understanding of each other and the way they play. It allows combinations of players to predict what each other will do and foster a seemingly telepathic level of understanding.

I was asked, before the 2014 Autumn International Series (almost a year out from the start of the World Cup), what I wanted to see from England. For example, did I want to see England go undefeated? My answer was simple. I wanted to see a stable team from one to fifteen; continuity that we could take into the Six Nations.

Arguably, England lacked composure during critical moments. Experience tells me that this often happens when teams don’t have a cast iron belief in their game plan, their collective ability to execute it and adapt it in the heat of battle. Again, this all stems from continuity.

Team selection is one of the coach’s primary responsibilities, and one that has a massive impact on the team’s success. In order to select the best team, a coach needs to really know their players, which requires history. They need to see combinations of players working together. They need to have seen them in a host of diverse and challenging situations. They need to know (not hope) that those players will be able to perform together when it matters and to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably be thrown in their path. In doing so, the coach needs to ensure that they select a team which has, not only technical ability, but leadership and character.

Many of the world class teams that I studied are described as ‘a team of leaders’. There is real depth to their leadership. The All Blacks work on a simple principle; 15 leaders, 1 captain. Interestingly, Clive Woodward developed this depth of leadership in the England team that won the 2003 World Cup. It didn’t happen because that team happened to contain lots of ‘natural leaders’. It happened because Woodward deliberately grew the leadership capability within the squad during the years preceding the tournament.

During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, England’s lack of leadership, decision making and their ability to control the momentum of the game were fatally exposed.

Therefore, I’d argue that some of the most powerful lessons for England Rugby go beyond technical and tactical flaws, and actually relate to teamwork and leadership.

To find out how great teams work, click on…