View from the Edge

February 21, 2006

Presentation Summary

Prince Obolensky Lecture, Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Insights and observations from the world of rugby. This speech looks into the symbolism, mythology and power of the All Blacks, and how they consistently inspire others by operating at a level of pure Peak Performance.

View from the Edge

So here’s to the great game of rugby. Thanks to the Sunday Times for organizing this, to Derek for driving it, and to you, for letting your businesses and the country (!) run themselves tonight – as we hopefully give birth to some new ideas.

It’s an honour to give the Prince Obolensky lecture, and to provide a Southern Hemisphere perspective to Sir Clive’s Northern Hemisphere-focussed inaugural lecture last year – although it feels a bit like Russian roulette. I can’t afford a year like Clive’s following his lecture!!!

I grew up loving Lancashire and England rugby, but a tour team shanghaied my heart. Obsidian warriors who moved like water. The 1964 and ‘67 All Blacks. Waka Nathan, the black panther. Brian Lochore. Mac Herewini, and my own personal hero and now great friend, Earle Kirton.

It was down to Earle that England won the World Cup.

Earle discovered Clive Woodward at Harlequins and was his coaching inspiration and creative juice. Earle told me his first piece of advice to Clive was: your first bit of ball may be your best Clive, so better use it well. I guess Clive passed that piece of advice on to Jonny Wilkinson, and full credit to England’s 2003 win. They deserved it.

But… lest we forget… Woodward’s record against the All Blacks is 3 out of 11 …, so we can forgive Earle.

It’s good to see England back on track, and France in Paris next month should be a classic.

Being a rugby nut has its advantages. Moving to New Zealand in 1989 and becoming a kiwi changed my life.

I was invited onto the All Black Board as its first Independent Director, and for 4 years was at the centre of professionalizing the game. Since joining Saatchi & Saatchi I’ve had nine straight years of business meetings coinciding with the international rugby calendar, including Paris next month – funny that.

The All Blacks are a team that all rugby people respect openly or secretly, except maybe Stephen Jones. The All Blacks are the standard others are measured against – like Brazil in soccer they are usually the team to beat.

There’s a lot of Johnnie Walker wisdom on the AB’s, the British media being the sloppiest drinkers. One truth punches through the drizzle – the All Blacks win. Across a century they’ve won relentlessly. A positive win record against every nation. A 73% win record in all tests is the best in the world. For home games the percentage skyrockets – in the professional era it’s around 90%.

Sustained Peak Performance is a compelling proposition.

So I’m going to share some reasons for this All Black success, for our great failures too, and why we’ll be dangerous in France next year. I’ll also share with you some ideas on globalizing, integrating and developing the game we all love.

All Black advantage starts with what we call the New Zealand Edge. Edge is geographical, metaphorical, and biological. The Edge of a place or species is where innovation and velocity combust.

This applies in sport, business, technology everywhere. Visit NZ Edge for the full story.

New Zealand’s global history is short. The tipping point was the 1905 all-conquering All Black Originals tour. Lost men who came here by steam. Unknown, unfancied and unbeatable, despite being dragged back over the try line.

The Originals were pre-Gallipoli. A point of genesis in our globalization. The All Blacks began who New Zealanders are and what we’re about, a unique identity that projects us into the world. Peter Jackson and others have helped diversify the Edge, but the power of the black won’t be denied.

In The Book of Fame, a riveting New Zealand rugby book, Lloyd Jones marks the Original Edge: “We introduced new ideas to Europe. The 2, 3, 2 scrum formation; the wing forward, controversial but effective; a fullback who played with a sun hat on, and ran outside the wing.”

Edge is all about innovation. Carlos Spencer zagging a zig. Zinny chancing a drop goal. And Dan Carter just being Dan Carter. We don’t play safe. We’re always looking for the Edge. Always moving forward.

Sustained Peak Performance happens when everybody is in flow against a pre-determined dream. Academic colleagues and I discovered this in a four-year study of elite professional sport, and wrote a book about it. Peak Performance, secrets of the world’s greatest sporting teams. It covers the All Blacks, the Australian Cricket Board, Bayern Munich, Williams F1, The Atlanta Braves, the San Fran 49ers, the NY Yankees, and other Peak Performers.

Inside the All Blacks, “One Team One Dream” is critical. The Lions last year never shared a dream. It was One Team Clive’s Dream. No unity, no mateship, no passion.

When John Kirwan was given the black jersey, he tells me it was heavy not light. It was heavy as lead. Three older All Blacks told him the No.14 jersey was his only on loan. On loan from Brian Williams, Grant Batty, Stu Wilson and their great predecessors. As JK says: you can be remembered for what you did in the jersey, or you can be forgotten.

The All Blacks play for the jersey, not the money. When you play New Zealand you play against all the legends who wore that jersey, and you play against those standards. For an All Black, a core belief is – No opposition is more intimidating than the legacy.

Jonah says it was like putting an “S” on his chest front, as Underwood discovered in the Cape Town semi of 95.

Jonah touched the ball seven times, scored four tries, created two more and put a Pom in hospital. Rugby doesn’t get any better than that.

Grant Fox told me what stood the great All Blacks apart: “ice in the mind and fire in the belly.” In Peak Performance theory, leadership is ignited with inspiration.

Inspiration is a higher force than leadership, The problem with the simple leadership model is that leaders need followers. Followers do not win world cups. I don’t think Martin Johnson, Sean Fitzpatrick or Colin Meads had “born to follow” tattooed on their buttocks!!

A game of rugby is won or lost by the number of Inspirational Players on the paddock. David Kirk had five co-leaders on the field in 1987. Taine Randall did not in 1999. Martin Johnson did in 2003. Today’s captain must inspire, not manage and not just lead – inspire through personal mana and commitment.

Take Buck Shelford. The only time JK saw him come off was after 70 minutes in ‘86 in France. Buck showed JK two missing teeth but said it wasn’t why he came off. He pulled down his Speedos and his scrotum was ripped in half. He played 69 minutes like that.

Today’s All Black team could well be the fittest strongest team in the world. The coaches are not basing their future on creatine and supplements – but on new techniques and new training methods matching the new physical requirements of new rugby. And there’s much more focus on prevention and recovery than in the past.

But when you get down to it, today’s All Black team like to hurt people and they do it for the full 80. It’s relentless. The objective is to crush the opposition. By as many points as possible. Relentless. No easing up.

All our players today can run and handle but the basics are still and always paramount, and maybe the best in the world. If you are a forward, that’s what you are. Hayman hitting a ruck is better than Gear hitting a ruck. And reverse. A forward in the backline doesn’t work as well as a back (especially in defence).

Behind the power is formidable depth, which creates intense competition for every position. Every All Black is spotted young and comes through the age groups, with our culture, our standards, our style, our beliefs imprinted at every level.

The All Blacks are expected to win like the sun is expected to rise. Lose, and New Zealand GDP plummets.

Peak Performers are families not teams. Shared sayings, feelings, belongings and doings that fast track to Flow, a zone where nothing is impossible. The All Black Family is uncompromising. Tribal, loving, unforgiving. Being selected doesn’t make you an AB. You prove you deserve the honour to your mates or you walk away. Prove it, and you’re Tony Soprano – made.

Families eliminate command and control. They unleash and inspire. Everyone takes some responsibility for coaching, pressure and game plans. The great coaches like to be challenged, to innovate, to change, but the most important part of any change programme is knowing what not to change. Woodward may have forgotten this with the Lions.

And good coaches coach! Take the gifted Islander kiwis. They clean up at school but sometimes do it tough at international levels. Graham Henry’s hands-on wise men have taught them different skill sets, new techniques, and have empathised with their special and different psyches. Jerry Collins used to just T-bone people, run straight at them. Now he can offload too.

Rugby is a game of small differences at the top level on the field. When on-field inspiration has been lost the All Blacks have lost. Inspirational Leadership is taught from game one to the All Blacks’ new players. We’ve lost when we lost sight of training every player to lead and we’ve lost when attrition knocked out key players. 1998 when Fitzy, Brooke, Bunce and Michael Jones were all out.

Two weeks ago Graham Henry told our players, “Forget about 05. Start again.” This game evolves in 100 day cycles. You can think you’re leading, when you’re following.

Inspirational leaders are not always the most physically talented. They are men who can stand in the furnace. 13 All Blacks at Twickenham, 23 minutes to go, 15 Englishmen smelling napalm on the wind.

Inspirational Leaders make the right calls in the furnace. General Stormin’ Norman cracks it. “When given command, take charge and do what’s right.” Was Mark Cowboy Shaw the most talented loose forward of his time? No. But at the highest level of pressure he was mentally the toughest, uncompromising, blood and steel. He would take charge and do what’s right.

We’ve lost world cups since ‘87 because we put talent over mettle. For 90% of the teams, that talent would win. For the 10% needed to win World Cups we didn’t have men on the field who knew how to win hard enough. Australia did in ‘91. South Africa did in ‘95. England did in Sydney. In 2007 New Zealand will.

Nick Farr-Jones knows. He told me that to win the World Cup, you need five players who would walk into the world 15, 5 on the fringe and 5 solid test players. That’s our team that played Wales last year. And our other one that played Ireland!!!

Next year’s finals will come down to how many Inspirational Players front for the big games – when England, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand clash. Inspiration and attitude will count as much as raw talent.

In defending Australia’s consecutive seventh loss Eddie Jones said: “If you take the scrum out of the equation we played well.” To which an Aussie journalist responded “If you take the assassination out of the equation, President and Mrs Kennedy quite enjoyed the drive from Dallas to the Airport”.

In any code, competitive advantage is about And / And not Either / Or. New Zealand will go into 2007 with talent and commitment, with 1 st choice players and tried & tested options, with a respect for tradition and a taste for innovation. New Zealand will have 35 guys blooded to win. And McCaw will have four wise men coaching, five inspirational co-leaders on the field and five million supporters.

Moving from the All Blacks now to the world game.

Globally the game has come a long way in the past decade, but where does it go from here? The two big issues on my mind are Club vs. Country and the Global Season.

Rugby’s edge is the top of the game, the irresistible internationals. Globalize that attraction and the brand has amazing potential. Administrators – mostly northern – are reducing it, condemning rugby to league’s fate, deluded that club can replace country as revenue driver.

Club-driven, player-retentive, destructive interests are commoditising rugby. Ever more contests, burnt out elite players, refusals to release, grid locking schedules, the decline of the tour, games in the mud, and the club-country Gordian knot.

In the Southern hemisphere a centrally-controlled player contract system strengthens the top level of the game. Here, club-controlled contracts debilitate it.

There aren’t enough pro players in France and England to sustain 26 pro teams, even with imports. Following the ‘more is better’ soccer model is death for rugby. The English and French clubs seem willing executioners, intent on destabilization.

If the clubs run the game, it’s over. I’m with David Moffet. The players need to act, protect their futures, and demand a better season structure. Either the players must mobilise, or your RFU and Premier Rugby demonstrate leadership for the game.

In 1976 on the high veldt, Tane Norton stood next to a colossal Orange Free Springbok in the players’ tunnel. The media had described the pitch as “hard and dusty.” To lighten tension, Norton quipped: “There’s not much grass out there.” The Springbok turned with a bloodshot stare and snorted: “We haven’t come here to graze.”

The fix-all is one integrated Global Season for provincials, tests and tours. Synchronize, and windows fly open to build the top of the game. Players always available, teams always playing each other at strength, and the magic of the tour returns!!

The choice is multiple dog breakfasts or a banquet for the whole wide world. Great to see the IRB tackling this, with SANZAR and other countries coming to the table, but we need to stop debating and get it done. The top of the game needs supercharging. And the players need relief.

Nick Farr Jones told me in 1992 that a rugby tour was like sex. When it was good it was great and when it was bad it was still pretty good.

Current agendas and schedules are parochial kryptonite.

Tier two funding is great but we need a Global Tier 1, with Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and their ilk competitive. The Super 14 and Tri-nations exclude Argentina and the Pacific Islands. Six Nations excludes northern minnows with rugby veins. North America is forgotten and ignored. The Lions spend too long in the shade. And watching UK club rugby in January and February is like 1960s attrition rugby. The spectacle – where rugby needs to compete – is ruined. As Bobby Skinstad reminded me, race horses aren’t made to run in the mud!!

If the game is to survive its competition, we need lightning-fast action. We have to optimise globally around drier winters and cooler summers. I believe the North can and must play through its summer – sponsorship and cricket notwithstanding. It’s a shot in the arm, not the head. In 1996, summer Super 12 catalysed the game. Crowds flocked to see Jonah, Christian Cullen, Ben Tune and Joe Roff play fast-fire football. And now it includes rucking, scrummaging and tackling too!!

We need a view beyond 2007. Start all domestics in Jan/Feb. Explode Heineken Cup and Super 14 into each other to lift standards, with LA and Tokyo included. Build to an Oct/Nov/Dec international window. Hook the new spectators with sevens at the 2012 Olympics – it’s the “Jonahs” the world wants!! As Pine Tree Meads said: “I’ve seen alot of players like him, but they weren’t playing on the wing!” As critical mass builds, yes, send the World Cup to Japan. And then to the US.

An All-Star global club competition would set this game on fire! Pools for time-location differences, NBA-style salary cap-and-trade to mix and strengthen pools. Fluid eligibility. Players fit and available for the internationals window.

And finally, nothing beats rugby for mateship / camaraderie – from the clubrooms to the aftermatch at the Angel or the Berkeley Court. We simply have to increase player participation.

JK tells me he wanted to be an All Black since he was five. The way to develop young players everywhere is to emotionalize up – not just strategize down. This is about inspiring bright eyes in your field of influence.

Build rugby’s youth spirit everywhere, and government dollars and parents will follow. Build constellations of passion, performance and safety. Murray Mexted, Fitzy, Eddie Tonks and I formed the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand for exactly this.

Let’s remember that William Webb Ellis didn’t kick for touch. He picked the ball up and ran with it. As Lloyd Jones says in the Book of Fame. Back yourself, give it a go, back up, reinvent, challenge, change.

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