Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Learning from the Lions

The magnificent series victory by the Lions over the Wallabies demonstrates two simple facts.
 One is that the secret to coaching is as much knowing who not to select as who to select- and being able to follow that through. The second is that team culture is central.
 The team must be able to transcend the internal differences that exist and that will always exist. A coach that has created a good team culture will be able to not select certain players- and survive; a coach that has failed to create the team culture will always fail.

 An important element that Gatland and his team were able to bring to fulfilment was the mythology of the Lions.  In many ways this tour was the make or break time for this mythology. In a world of professional sport could a concept like the Lions exist and succeed  when players appear to have so many transitional and divided loyalties? Was the Idea, the Concept, the Myth, the belief in 'the Lions' strong enough, big enough, meaningful enough to be able to triumph?

 The secret of the Lions is that  is a scarce experience, it exists separate from anything else in world rugby. The Lions exist in many ways as a sacred event, in the sense of sacred meaning 'set aside'. If the Lions became an annual event, or even occurred every 2 years the experience would be in danger of being profaned. Because the chance to wear the red jersey, to play against the red jersey, is a scarce event it remains perhaps the greatest mystique and value in world rugby.

 The All Blacks have tried extremely hard to create and perpetuate a similar mystique with the black jersey- but theirs is actually based on the success of the team, not on the more transcendent mythologies that the Lions embody. If the All Blacks lost more regularly then the mystique would fade. The only way to restore it would be to play less often.

The biggest problem facing Australian rugby is not the rebuilding of team culture, for McKenzie has demonstrated that he is capable of doing that. it will be that of not selecting players. Already the Melbourne Rebels have shown the way forward.
 The irony is that in the past, when Deans was coaching the Crusaders talented but troublesome players like O'Conner would have been shipped south to be sorted out.

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