Humphrey Walters is a leadership and team-building guru brought in by Clive Woodward in 1997 to use his winning business principles to improve the performance of the England team. The coach credited Walters with helping to bring back the World Cup in 2003 and engaged him again in the build-up to the Lions tour. Here Walters explains how he went about his latest task, a 10-day crash course that was very different from working with the England team.
When teams arrive to play England these days there is a sign that says, ‘You are now entering Fortress Twickenham’. It was an idea I got from New Zealand when we toured there in 1998. When you get off the bus in Dunedin and walk into the stadium, you are greeted by the words, ‘You are now entering the House of Pain’. When I saw it I turned to Clive and said: ‘We need something as intimidating as that.’
It goes deeper, though, than just being intimidating to the opposition. It says this is where the England team belong. It helps to build the sort of culture, tradition and togetherness that is a part of all successful businesses. It helps to unite the workforce, even if they spend most of their time playing against each other in club games.
We did this building, too, over the years by always gathering at the same hotel so the players knew this was where they turned up, this was another part of where they belonged. We were able to generate some kind of sameness, some kind of entity. It went right down to the changing room, where we put up plaques with the players’ names on. We tried to create a feeling that this was their home. We wanted to create an environment where everyone aspired to join and no one wanted to leave.
I knew straight away that none of this would be possible with the Lions. You are presented with a temporary workforce who have played against each other at club level and for their countries, creating another level of temporary togetherness that is contrary to establishing harmony. There is also the fact that everyone knows this is only for six or seven weeks, after which the players will never again all congregate in the same room. Guaranteed.
On top of this the Lions have no home and no office, and with so long a gap between tours the players find it difficult to locate that sense of history and tradition that I know from my professional background imbues and enhances every great business.
So, to a certain extent, it was what you could call a slightly shambolic mix who came together charged with trying to defeat opposition who have everything going for them – history, pride, a self-perpetuating excellence and the whole country behind them (although the last of these has the potential to be detrimental). The glory of wearing a black shirt makes you a hero, unlike in the British Isles, where, with so many competing interests, rugby doesn’t have the same significance.
My job was to build in just 10 days with the players and the management and coaching team some sort of history, some sort of folklore, some sort of belonging in order to overcome the huge disparity that exists in these areas between the Lions and the All Blacks – a name, incidentally, that we stopped using, referring to them instead as the New Zealanders. We didn’t want to enhance
their brand strength. I encouraged them instead to regard the opposition as being the representatives of two small islands with a population the size of Birmingham’s.
There were four core things I concentrated on. I called them the four senses. A sense of reality, a sense of excitement, a sense of belonging and a sense of value and worth. None of these is a
technical thing to do with rugby. They are emotional things, because as we all know there is a huge passion in winning teams.
First, the management team had a couple of days together in December last year, and then in April the players came together for two days. Finally we were all together for eight days before the party flew off at the end of last month.
The first time the players met up many of them hardly knew each other – some old, some young, a huge range of experience from Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back to Shane Williams, who is a gem of a guy. There were also the national differences – the England players used to a very organised environment, the Irish, a fantastic group, used to something rather different, the Welsh a little intimidated perhaps and the three Scots maybe feeling outnumbered. The only thing they had in common was that they were all sitting around in the same room, all thinking the same thing: ‘Oh my goodness, I’m so proud to be here, but is it OK to say something?’
Clive Woodward was completely unknown to some of the players and you could see them thinking: ‘What do I say to him?’ The first thing was getting them to relax, to let them know it was OK to speak out, and that was part of the ethos of the squad.
Having achieved this we moved on to the four core things, which I had spoken about with Clive. Being the clever man that he is, Clive put together a fantastic film showing great moments from Lions tours of the past that said: ‘This is what you’re in and the tradition you are privileged to be able to perpetuate.’ It was very moving. You could have heard a pin drop when we showed it. Now we can only wait and see what happens. I doubt anyone will be surprised to have learnt that Sir Clive’s Lions departed having been prepared differently from any of their predecessors. I would say this, I know, but I believe he has given them their best chance of prevailing against tremendous odds.