Trust. Martin Johnson had it in spades. The RFU trusted him to be England’s saviour and lead them to a new dawn. We as fans collectively trusted him to spearhead the revival of a world-beating side. The players supposedly trusted to his experience and leadership. We trusted the players to trust the man, the myth. And in return, Johnson imparted that trust back on the players to set the right example and deliver the right performances.
And then that trust was collectively and emphatically destroyed.
Look at examples from recent times and you see trust has been systematically eroded. Tony Blair and the September Dossier case for war. Bernie Madoff and the ponzi schemes. The Catholic Church and child abuse. Bankers and the credit crisis. Politicians’ expenses. The Euro. The list goes on…
Rugby evidently sits at the bottom of this pile in terms of importance. But didn’t the trust and belief in English rugby used to be the one thing we could rely on through dark times? We knew the men wearing the white shirts would give their all in every game, through the purest of motivation. We knew Twickenham was a fortress that no side would walk away from without earning a victory through skill, passion, and a monumental effort. We knew that Johnny would kick his goals, we trusted the leaders to come to the fore when needed. We trusted the team to deliver and to inspire.
And now we feel hurt. Let down.
Through press conferences, Johnno would glare through furrowed brow at journalists. Far from being a concern, though, his reticence was a comfort. We knew that behind the scenes he was building a team. That come the Autumn of 2011, we would all be proved that the trust placed in him was merited. It was shown on 14 Nov 2010, was it not, when England counter-attacked from their own try-line and Ashton scorched the Twickenham turf to round off a memorable win against Australia. A team performance of which we had been dreaming for years. But as we now know it was a false dawn.
One year on and the trust was ripped apart at the seams as accusation followed denial, blame-shifting followed back-stabbing. This time it went to the top. Everybody from the players to the management to the RFU board had seemingly betrayed the trust placed in them. At first, we weren’t sure who to blame. We can’t blame Johnno, because it’s…well, Johnno. We tried to blame Rob Andrew, though no-one really knew what he was or wasn’t responsible for, so how could he be blamed. We blamed the players. We blamed the coaches. We blamed ourselves. No-one was beyond reproach, yet who was the main culprit we asked?
It is this situation in which Stuart Lancaster finds himself. Seemingly aware of what the nation needs, hopes, and expects, his first press conference was lauded as candid, honest, and promising. We are too wounded to trust in him yet. And that is precisely why his openness is welcome at this time. He won’t be afforded the luxury of our trust. Even the RFU don’t trust him enough to give him more than a few months at the helm. He must earn what he can through performance, integrity and results.
At a base level, trust is simplicity itself, like building foundations one brick at a time. Trust the man next you on the field to make the right decision. Trust him to stick to an agreed plan. Trust in his ability. If this exists, bonds will be created that expand into links, links into a team. Lancaster has to build this team from the roots up.
Let us hope that at the end of the Six Nations we will be able to believe again, to believe that the right people are in the right positions, that the right decisions are being made. Let us believe in the desire and privilege of the players to represent their country. Let us trust once more.
by Justin Aylward