Extraordinary success at the Olympics at Beijing has set the bar high for sports like football, cricket and rugby.
No longer is the British public satisfied with honourable defeat – the new winning mentality will catch on, and as the women’s quadruple sculls team indicated, second place is not good enough.
As we look forward to the new rugby season starting in a matter of weeks, and the dawning of the new era under England legend, Martin Johnson, what can we learn from the British Olympic success to help emulate that glory at Twickenham and beyond?
1. Spare no expense
The National Lottery funding has clearly made a difference to Olympic sports like cycling and rowing, and the UK Sport Director has spoken passionately about the provision of the best facilites, state of the art equipment and the investment in research and technology.
Rumour has it that the RFU’s coffers are always pretty full, and it’s no surprise given the cost of a ticket to Twickenham these days, so England’s players should expect the best. They had a taste of it under Sir Clive, with his specialist chefs and luxurious travel, and that seemed to work reasonably well. Although some of Woodward’s ideas met with disapproval, nobody can argue that he didn’t achieve, so Johnno must find the right balance between what is required to achieve results and what is unnecessarily extravagant.
2. Surround yourself with the best people
Team GB has brought together world class coaches to help nurture Britain’s talent, such as rowing supremo, Jurgen Grobler. It’s up to Johnson to make sure he surrounds himself with the right people and there are signs he is doing this already, with Brian Ashton departing and Brian Smith joining the fold. The whole setup needs looking at, from the academy system to the elite coaches, to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals – let’s hope the club versus country agreement goes some way to achieving this.
3. Pay attention to detail
The cycling team have reportedly spent time researching the type of alcohol used to clean their bikes just in case they can gain an advantage. That is the attention to detail required by England rugby, such as research into training equipment, recovery techniques, and maybe even the weight of the doors to the Twickenham dressing room Who knows, they might be causing unnecessary fatigue in the captain’s right arm?
Again, Woodward was good at this, but the details have become less of a priority. Get the small things right and maybe the big results will look after themselves.
4. Select the most dedicated athletes
Selection decisions are often the hallmark of an England coach. Everyone remembers Andy Robinson picking lawrence Dallaglio on the bench and then substituting his captain, and few will ever forget that Iain Balshaw played five out of five games in the 2008 Six Nations, seven years after his last effective performance.
UK Sport invests only in the promising athletes with the potential to win a gold medal – if they don’t have that potential, they will be left behind. Johnson’s selection decisions will be greatly scrutinised, and we can trust that he will have the best intentions in picking the squad for the autumn internationals.
However, if a player underperforms and there is a better option in that position, they must be dropped until they can prove their worth once again. There must be no room for sentiment and trust that players will regain previous form – it will be ruthless, but that is what’s required.
5. Nurture the will to win
Installing all of the above into the England setup will help to prove to players that winning is everything, and that failure will not suffice even if they played adequately.
The night out in Auckland after a humiliating Test defeat has been widely reported, but this is unacceptable behaviour – if everything and everyone around you is working diligently, doing everything they can to achieve success and the players let the side down, it suggests a lack of respect.
Johnno won’t let this happen. He must be as defiant as he was at Lansdowne Road and as determined as he was in New Zealand back in 2003.
It’s time to wipe the slate clean and usher in the new world of sporting success on the rugby field.