Casual observers of the England rugby scene might put the 2003 World cup triumph simply down to the quality of the coaching. There was a perception that the team had reached a new
level of professionalism and performance, but had no understanding of how it had been achieved. As Sir Clive Woodward’s book Winning later revealed though, the inspiring victory against Australia was the climax of more then two years of meticulous preparation and planning. Its chapters reflect perfectly the nature of a dedicated individual who used his knowledge of the business environment to create a team in his own image. Calm, methodical and efficient, sometimes obsessional, but with a burning desire to win. Clive may appear to have the aura of someone who knows the answers, but he readily admits the opposite is true. The lesson that teamwork was the answer had been learned during his time with Xerox, and later when running his own leasing company.
“Bringing good people and new ideas together in business with spectacular results is incredibly satisfying,” he writes. “So rather than re-invent the wheel in England rugby I was quite happy to learn on other people’s expertise and creativity when we needed it.” Clive’s introduction of Humphrey Walters to the England scene was his first move. The next was to ensure that everyone involved in the squad, from manager and assistant coach to kit-man and team doctor, shared his vision that a new elite structure had to be created. Just a few lines in his book indicate tellingly how amateurish the previous approach had been. Ten of the thirteen people who worked with the squad were part- time. Clive recalls how enthused they all were though by the notion of helping to create a new-look England rugby structure. At the first intensive workshop organised to discuss the new ideas, a series of probing questions by Humphrey was the catalyst for the emergence of a strict code of conduct about how the new system would work.
Remarkably, all the ideas came from members of the support and coaching team. “If I’d have tried to mandate even half of these rules as a manager in any other business situation, there would have been a mutiny,” writes Clive. The same process of putting probing questions and encouraging open responses was then used to identify each minute element that impacted on a player’s day: from leaving home before a match, until they returned. “In one day, the team virtually made the plan that would form the foundation of the way the entire elite England setup would operate, although it would take us many months to implement fully,” recalls Clive. I was a very impressive example of how swiftly even a group largely composed of part-timers could be welded into some focused team when encouraged to think creatively and with freedom.
Following a casual meeting with Humphrey, even Clive’s vision of what the new England could achieve was then elevated to a further high. “We agreed that we were in the business of inspiration, and that our aim was to inspire the nation,” recalls Humphrey. Even they, musing about the future over a drink or two in a Devon pub though, could never have conceived just how spectacularly their dream would come true. Earlier this month, Humphrey realised once again just how wide the impact of last November’s triumph had been. “I was talking to about 450 teachers, of whom around 80% were female, so it was anything but what might have been regarded as a typical rugby audience,” He says. “All they wanted to talk about was the world cup though, and it made you think how remarkable it was that a small bunch of people had transfixed the nation.”