Well, the subject of today’s blog is probably predictable. Seven weeks ago Wales had not made the quarter finals of the World Cup (albeit that we went out in the best game of the tournament), but now with a new coaching team and a couple of critical returns from injury or political exile we have a second Grand Slam in four years, the all time best defensive record in the history of the championship (only two tries conceded) and unlike last time no narrow victories.
An all time record attendance at the Millennium Stadium, rumors that half the population of Wales was in the capital and the atmosphere was incredible. With the roof closed the singing while the French were warming up must have been intimidating and this continued during the match itself. It was a great game to watch, the first 40 minutes seemed to go in 10, and the last 10 stretched for what seemed like an hour until Martyn Williams put the result beyond doubt with a man of the match winning try. Overall it caused me (other than elation) to reflect on leadership and the difference it makes
Firstly we had the WRU who had the sense to dismiss the last coach in Nantes after the defeat to Fiji and immediately approach Gatland in New Zealand.
Secondly the team of Gatland, Edwards, Howley, McBride & Jenkins (who all use Apple Computers by the way) built in seven weeks a new team spirit and above all else discipline in what has always been a gifted set of players. We are normally “wrong but romantic” to quote 1066 and all that, now we seem to know how to do the right things to close down a game when we need to, and prevent any points been leaked. Against Fiji in the world cup we played sevens rugby against the world sevens champions. Now the French only threated out line once in 90 minutes and then a magnificant eight man shove by the forwards drove them off the ball and secured possession.
Thirdly Gatland knows how to use people. He introduced competition for places where it was needed. her persuaded that Magnificent Seven Williams to return from premature retirement. Above all he realised that Henson, politically shafted by previous coaches despite his talent (under 19 world player of the year) should be treated differently; he had his confidence restored by his place not being threatened. Adjusting leadership style to people is a key skill: one size does not fit all.
Fourthly the said Henson was magnificent in his new found responsibility as Defense Captain. With a break against England and turnover ball with a 50 yard kick against the Irish he provided the turning points in what otherwise might have been harder games. His defense, distribution and unselfishness was a model display of a great number 12.
Fifthly, the captain Ryan Jones not only led by example (by a wide margin the highest number of carries in the tournament) from number eight but also showed high intelligence in his decision making. You sensed this coming when during his long injury after the Lions Tour he provided great commentary for the BBC. Intelligence counts.
Sixthly, the crowd who stayed with the team even when we were down. It was like the 70s and 80s again, you know they would come through and win. The singing was the best in many a year and a good welsh hymn outpoints a chant any day.