The 2011 Rugby World Cup is in full flow. I’ve got my TV chair nicely in position and viewing schedule sorted, and my wall poster in the kitchen with results filled to date. I know the next round of fixtures and have organised my diary around them, and of course, adequate supplies of extra cold Guinness and spicy chicken wings in the fridge – enough stocks to see me through to the final, and extra time if needed.
Even my dog, Tess, knows this is serious, and makes no attempt to distract me during viewing, although she likes to ruck and maul on the front room floor with the mini rugby ball that I bought her when it’s half-time. She’s got poor levels of concentration once we’re mauling, a quick playful yank of her tail and she drops the ball from her mouth and I pounce like a gazelle (honestly, I do) and touch the ball down over the imaginary try line in front of the settee. She does nip back when she’s under pressure, but I can soon stop that – she doesn’t like me putting my fingers up her nose or flicking her ears – standard rugby practice on the muddy rugby pitches of Northern England – but hopefully the RSPCA aren’t reading this, and if they are, we’re best buddies in the bar afterwards…
As Tess knows, rugby is a physical game – the former England hooker Brian Moore once said If you can’t take a punch, you should play table tennis – but it’s not all about bashing and brawn, there’s plenty of humour and camaraderie in a rugby team – Gareth Chilcott, on retiring in his last England game said I’m off for a quiet pint now, followed by 17 noisy ones! Just half a session then Gareth? For me, the passion, team spirit, togetherness and winning mindsets in rugby rise above anything I’ve ever done and taught me much about humanity, teamwork, drinking and tomfoolery than anything else I’ve experienced. If you meet someone who’s played rugby, you’ll probably like them and get on with them. John Eales, the most capped Australian captain (55 games in a career of 86 games) and one of only six players to have won the World Cup twice, once said Everything I know about life I got from rugby. There are many lessons you can take from rugby into business. For example – composure, and planning, which are intrinsically linked.
We all have Sydney, Australia, 22 November 2003 forever etched in our minds. After 99 minutes of the Rugby World Cup Final, England v Australia the scores are level, 17-17. From 14-5 ahead, England was pegged back in the second half by Elton Flattley’s accurate kicking, including a successful kick in the last minute. England had lost just four games in the last four years, but it would count for nothing if they can’t win the next minute….
The forwards drive the ball downfield plugging away for position. They are in the spot. Not quite, one more run by captain Martin Johnson. That’s better. This is it. Dawson dummies and an Aussie forwards steps offside…penalty to England, but we have the advantage and play on. Everything is going to plan. Long pass, Dawson to Wilkinson, who shapes up confidently, and with his non-dominant kicking right foot calmly bangs over the match winner. The World Cup winner. Cue mayhem at our house as the front room erupts as one. England are World Champions.
At the margin, with 20 seconds to go, this win had everything to do with composure and planning. It’s no different in the world of business to that of sport. The ability to remain composed in a competitive situation is vital, the ability to make good decisions when under pressure differentiates companies in good times and bad. Composure is a telling factor in performance whether on the scoreboard or on the bottom-line. In the haze of that moment, keeping composed is vital. But what is composure?
England had a team phrase in the 2003 World Cup – T-Cup – thinking-correctly-under-pressure – and they took that from the training ground into the heat of the game. When interviewed after the match, Wilkinson was asked if he’d been nervous, one swing of his golden boot and England were World Champions? Not really he replied, the last 38 seconds had been six years in the making.
England, under Clive Woodward, had brought a new focus to their preparation. Their goal was to be World Champions, and leaving nothing to chance, prepared for that moment – in the last few minutes of the final, close to the opposition posts, scores level, what’s the move that gives us the opportunity to win? Watch the video of the move – Johnson, Dawson, Catt and Greenwood all took the planning and learning from the training ground, and with composure, got the ball to Jonny. The move had been rehearsed many, many times over the last six years, and they made it count when it mattered most.
But sometimes it doesn’t go to plan. Ask Frank Menduca from Adelaide.
I went to the 2007 tournament in France with my son James, the highlight being England 23 Australia 17 in the Quarter-Final in Marseille. Memories of raw French steak, ham & cheese toasties and lager for breakfast, and being part of a crowd singing and willing Fiji to beat the arrogant South Africans – Welsh fans with ‘Fiji’ taped over ‘Wales’ on their shirts… and an encounter with Frank Menduca, an Aussie bear.
Resting for a beer after the game with a noisy throng of England fans on one of the many street bars, a posse of Aussies hulked around the corner. Cue Waltzing Matilda from the England fans. Jubilation versus despondency. One of the Aussies, the leader of their pack and a huge man mountain caught my eye and pointed a finger at me. You’re for it now dad! said James, moving slowly so as to hide behind me like Simba behind Mufasa!
The Aussie came up to me, at least six inches taller than me, something I’m not used to. He stared intently into my face. Then let out a wail and a cry We lost, I need a hug! and embraced me as a long lost relative. Mayhem broke out again, as around twenty grown up men embraced each other. Man love. You had to be there.
Frank said We didn’t have a plan! We panicked! No plan, no leadership, no ideas. Not even enough imagination to thump someone in the line-out when the ref wasn’t looking! Well I said, if Carlsberg made losers, they’d be the Australian rugby team! England had a plan to beat them in 2003, an again in 2007. About three hours, ten pints, a giant hot dog eating competition (individual and relay – well done James, second place behind Frank’s son) and a raucous singing competition later, we parted. Ten yards down the road, the Englishmen broke into the apocryphal Rolf Harris anthem. Tie me Kangaroo down sport…. We were far from composed at that moment, but the plan was to get one over the Aussies!
Thinking back to 2003, nothing gives you more advantage over another person in the heat of competition as to remain cool as a cucumber and unruffled, and think about your plan. Composure is the product of an ambitious mentality envisioning the outcome we would aspire for – T-Cup. What do I need to do? It requires persistence, vision, self-belief and patience. Being persistent requires constant thinking and developing an agile plan to accomplish our goals as the situation changes – a plan doesn’t require detailed steps, rather it guides our actions to ensure we are always progressing towards accomplishing our goals.
Our mettle is tested as pressure-filled situations create doubt. Having doubt is a natural reaction, which we all experience. But being composed and having a plan we believe in is what helps us to endure and overcome. Dare to believe you can be the best. It’s the act of planning itself which is more important than the plan – but you’ve got to be careful, because if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. But do plan ahead, it wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark.