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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Are you really surprised the Wallabies are out of the World Cup?

Last week at the pub I was nearly taken out by a rugby fan when I dared say that I thought the Australians would be booted out of the World Cup by the South Africans or by the Brits. The guy looked at me as if I was a member of Al Qaeda and I quickly learnt to keep my opinions on rugby to my self.

So, on waking this morning I am not at all surprised to see the results back from the World Cup plastered all over the front of the Sunday papers and seriously, are you?

I am constantly amazed at how little insight men have into the actual psychological dynamics of high level sporting teams. Great teams are not determined by the number of Mark Gasnier's they have (just look at the Dragons!), nor are they decided upon by how much money is invested in their development and preparation (just look at Australian rugby!).

Great teams are developed, yes developed, when the coaching staff has the unique ability to nurture each individual player to the same level of focus, commitment and motivation, at the exact right time for every single game or competition.

That is the difference between good and great teams. Wayne Bennett is the classic example of a coach who has this ability. The players listen when he speaks and he commands a respect from all who cross his path - he is a man that can make good teams great. Todd Louden from NSW rugby is another, as shown in his work this year with the Bulls in the Super 14 competition. He has the amazing ability to lift players spirits to that far beyond their natural ability and as a result creates a team dynamic that far outweighs any skills that can be drilled into players at training. As a result each individual in the team is at one with himself, leaving him available to align with the teams goals for every game and session. The energy such a team creates is so great that the team can do anything it sets its mind to.

A great coach is cool, collected, self regulated and in such an intense focus for his craft the few manage to infiltrate his world or mind. The players one interest in this special man is to catch their own personal glimpse of his greatness, for that too will improve their game beyond any development program they themselves could embark on.

In retrospect this is the clear weakness of the Wallabies. Not only does the coach fail to demand respect from the players or the public for that matter, the Wallabies are not a mentally tough group that understand nor appreciate the privileged position they are in, nor do they have the absolute desire to be the best for themselves, their country or their teammates. The Wallabies live for months of the year in an isolated holiday camp in paradise and whether they win or lose they return to their multimillion dollar north shore mansions and look forward to the Australian Summer that awaits them.

Take the South Africans on the other hand; whether they win or lose they return to a tough country where they still work the land and witness suffering and poverty every single day of their lives. They spend much more time giving back to their religious families and are expected to give whatever they can back to their local communities.

The Wallabies cannot be blamed for their failure to perform at the World Cup. If Australian rugby had any insight into these dynamics, they would never have given John Connelly the job of coaching an underdone side to the World Cup. The trouble is, we cannot be sure that they will learn their lesson this time.