Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Drawing Parallels

Published Tuesday 20 October, 2015

At this point in time, I am moved to make some observations and draw some parallels that may seem different and strange but are, for all that, very real and may be of use in business, political or personal situations.  

Now please do NOT stop reading now just because I am about to reflect on the Rugby World Cup. I am not going to write about teams and scores and who did what to whom, but I am going to reflect on what the values and various aspects and happenings in the game can teach us in other walks of life........and that may be worthy of your time for a few more minutes! Regardless if you would rather gnaw your arm than watch a rugby match.....read on and think about how what you do, where you work, how you deal with issues can learn from Rugby.

Unlike in games involving its round ball cousin, when referees in rugby matches give a penalty to one side (even in the last minute with the scores level) he doesn't risk life and limb from the offending side's players by being jostled and aggressively confronted. Swear at a rugby referee and off you go. Argue.....and your side surrenders another ten yards of territory. The players call the referee "Sir" and only the Captains query decisions. There isn't the indulging of prima donna behaviour, simulation in the tackle (aka cheating!) or working hard to get an opponent sent off. This discipline filters onto the terraces; thousands of women and children are in rugby crowds, alcohol flows freely, it is all immensely tribal and the game they are watching is violent; yet there is never any threatening behaviour in the crowds, you never hear chanting involving the F-word or worse, neighbourhoods don't have to board up their windows and keep their children indoors. Why?

It's about values frankly; football has a set of values that tolerates persistent indulging of appalling behaviour by authorities in thrall to gate-money, to astonishing revenue and the politically-correct Guardianistas who say rugby is a game for the elite ( a Guardian journalist once declared that a bomb under the West Car Park at Twickenham would make her day!) and the disgusting behaviour on and off the professional football pitch is merely a display of the working man at play and should be understood as such!

One of rugby's values is Respect....with a capital R. Respect for authority, for the opponent, for the good people who pay good money to come along and watch. Not deference in the slightest; the Wales v Australia qualifying match at Twickenham was brutal but the sportsmanship was palpable; there was no deference for sure when some thirty seven stones of finely-honed muscle collide at a cumulative speed of sixteen miles an hour! But Respect in those tackles and in that game was enormous. And it filters down and through to the viewing public, to youngsters going to school, to the creation of a safer Society.

Another of Rugby's values is teamwork...and looking out for your mates. In Rugby egos are left at the door; it is utterly irrelevant who you are or what you've done before. It's all about what you can do for the other guy, how you ensure 15x1 = 25! Soldiers who are decorated for bravery often say they weren't being particularly brave, they were just doing it to look after their mates since they knew.....were certain....that their mates would look after them. That is teamwork at its most poignant. All for one and one for all. Remember, as rugby teams all over the World at every level are so often reminded, there is no I in Team!

Looking at what happened in three different games provides lessons for other walks of life:-

1. The greatest coach England has ever had, Sir Clive Woodward, tells people about the essence of TCup: Thinking Clearly Under Pressure. When the pressure is really on, when bodies and minds are fatigued, when emotions are in full cry, that is when poor judgement calls are made, when poor directions emerge. In business, in personal stuff....and on the pitch. Three minutes to go, you're three points down and can't afford to lose. You win a penalty in a kickable position (the angle is unhelpful but you possess perhaps the best place kicker in the World and certainly one of the top three) and so you can go for three points, level the score and have the opposition kick off to you (and give you possession again with a minute to go or you can kick to touch and go for a try to win the game. Pressure, pressure, pressure. England's captain chose the latter but then compounded the error of judgement by utilising his troops at the consequent line-out in a way that, whilst easier to execute, made it easy for the Welsh, opponents that day, to defend. Poor judgement call number two. The excuse that the heat was on and the blood was up is lame; leaders are there to make the right calls in precisely those situations. Napoleon said "Give me lucky Generals" and without doubt we all have PhDs in hindsight, but (with apologies to Gary Player) the cooler the decision-maker is under pressure, the luckier he gets.

2. Dateline: Saturday 19th September 2015. Location: that hotbed of Rugby Tradition, Brighton! Twice World Cup Winners (1995 and 2007) South Africa ....the mighty Springboks.....start their 2015 campaign with a nice little run-out in the sea air against the smaller guys from the Land of the Rising Scrum. Japan are makeweights in the tournament and every right-minded pundit has this one down as a 50-0 Springbok win. Some 85 minutes later a stunned load of Boers and an equally stunned Rugby World heard a final whistle blow on a 34-32 Japanese victory. What happened? Simple actually. That dreadful disease that can percolate sports teams, businesses, politicians, celebrities and also  personal relationships; that virus that, once it's working away inside the mind, is so very difficult to shift........Complacency. If you think in any relationship in any walk of life that all you have to do is turn up, that you don't need to make an effort anymore, that it'll be fine just because it always has been....you'll get turned over, and some. This match was going to be an easy training session for South Africa.....but no-one had told the Japanese! Whatever you do, where ever you are, in whatever field you operate.....never forget to try just that little bit harder, to be aware always of the competition and treat them with respect....and remember that you too could be sitting in your version of a seaside dressing room wondering what just hit you!  

3. Rugby is full of them; a missed kick there, a dropped pass here, the wrong line to run, an unfair refereeing decision. I am proud to be a non-executive director of Leicester Tigers Premiership Rugby Club, still the only British club to have won back-to-back European Cups. Whenever something "costs us the game" I am always grumpy and have to keep remembering that I must be a good loser (sadly Dear Reader I fail abysmally on that front....always have). Our Chairman, Peter Tom, always reminds me that whatever the grievance or perceived slight, the scoreboard and the League Table don't lie, so "suck it up and get on with your life". Dwelling on what went wrong and nurturing a sense of injustice is a gift to the opposition. France v England in the 1991 World Cup Quarter Final in Paris. A few decisions went against the French, Brian Moore, Mickey Skinner and his merry crew kept needling away at the French sense of grievance (it is said that Moore learnt French especially for the occasion! No language has more different words for "surrender" he told them) and the result was a collapse of French discipline, loads of penalties for the men of Agincourt and a famous English victory. SUMO is the watchword.......Shut Up and Move On! The art of positive, forward-looking thinking.....try it next time you want to indulge in the luxury of spending your energy and time on bearing a grudge and harbouring the destructive thoughts of how you've been wronged. "Movin' on up" has served Tigers well over the years.

So there you have it; by the time you read this we will all know who won the Rugby World Cup; the World Champions will have been crowned and life from Brighton to Cardiff, from Newcastle to Twickenham will have got back to normal. But one thing is certain; the winners will have banished complacency, they will have been marvellously led and they will, to a man, have Shut Up and Moved On many times on their journey to greatness.