- Captains need strong leaders around them to help them challenge decisions
- Preparing for tough decisions in the final minutes of big games should be part of game preparation
- A team effort was required when bouncing back from a heavy defeat in 2007
As a former captain, Lewis Moody knows first-hand how it feels to make big decisions in key rugby games and how to live with the consequences.
Moody says, "Speaking with Martin Johnson, a fellow former captain, you appreciate his understanding of the game and areas where decision making is key. There's so much to consider as a leader, which is easy when you can observe from the side-line, but when you're in the heat of the moment, it can sometimes be slightly blurred.”
"WHEN I WAS CAPTAIN IT WAS ALWAYS REALLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE A NUMBER OF GUYS AROUND ME THAT WOULD QUESTION ME. THEY WOULDN’T ALWAYS BE GIVING ME THE RIGHT ANSWER BUT THEY'D BE QUESTIONING THE DECISION, WHICH THEN REINFORCES EITHER IN MY MIND THAT IT'S THE RIGHT DECISION OR IT WOULD MAKE ME THINK FOR A MOMENT THAT MAYBE WE SHOULD BE LOOKING AT THIS FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE.”
"If you haven’t got those guys, the danger is that you're always reliant on one individual. People need to be questioned sometimes to make them understand why they're making a decision. As an individual on a pitch you can’t see every element of the game, you can’t cover every angle. That's why you need input from other areas whether it's your scrum-half, your fly-half, your number eight, etc.”
"Johnno had that in Lawrence Dallaglio, and in Matt Dawson. Although by the time he got towards the end of his captaincy he knew the decisions that he was making and why he was making them – he was very clear. He had such a good understanding of the game.”
"In 2003 we did a huge amount of work around the fact that games come down to the last couple of minutes - what you have to do as a side, whether it's defending the goal line because you're three points up, whether it's needing a try yourself. So what areas do you go to in the line out and what plays do you have off it to help you get over the gain-line? If you need a drop goal, how does that come about? What patterns of play, what lineout calls, what options are on? It then comes down to the individual leaders in the team.”
As a team reaches a decision, the majority of times the final call will have to be made by and communicated through the captain, an individual who must be prepared to stand by the consequences, as Moody explains.
"YOU TAKE EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS VERY PERSONALLY. FOR ME I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE THE BEST LEADER I COULD BE. I SOUGHT ADVICE FROM THOSE OUTSIDE THE RUGBY WORLD, FROM THOSE WITHIN IT. YOU CONSTANTLY QUESTION THINGS TO SEE IF PEOPLE ARE HAPPY. YOU WANT TO PUT YOURSELF IN THE BEST POSITION POSSIBLE TO WIN GAMES SO WHEN IT DOESN’T GO YOUR WAY AND YOU LOSE MATCHES AND YOU'VE HAD A POOR GAME, YOU TAKE IT VERY PERSONALLY AND IT'S VERY HARD TO DEAL WITH."
"Fortunately, you generally have another opportunity to put it right. Certainly for me when we lost in 2010 on tour to Australia in the first Test, one of which we should have won, I took that very personally. I made sure we went out the following week and I implemented a couple of areas that would help us come out on top of that game and inevitably we did.”
"Equally in 2011 when we got knocked out in a quarter-final, I knew that was going to be my last game for England – then all of a sudden, you don’t have the opportunity to put it right. Those things, they play on your mind. As a captain you take everything seriously and the responsibility of the team falls on your shoulders. It's a tough role but it's also a fantastic role when you get it right and things go for you, it's incredibly rewarding.”
Moving on from a painful loss clearly requires a strong mind set and belief in putting things right. We often hear teams saying that they are just focussed on the next game. Does this mean they have moved on from the loss? How much forensic study goes into what went wrong before a game can be put to bed? Moody talks about his experiences in 2007 and how his side regrouped.
He says, "We lost 36-0 to South Africa in a pool game. That side was full of experienced players, Dallaglio, Bracken, Catt, Wilkinson, Kay, Corry, so we dealt with it by sitting down and we confronted it. We confronted the issues because we knew we could do better as a side and we knew we were better than we were delivering on the pitch.
"If you ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen then you're just papering over the cracks. There's no guarantee that by confronting it you'll solve the problem, but you'll have a better chance that way rather than burying your head in the sand. We had a belligerent group of players that refused to accept defeat. We had two easy games after that loss, we focussed on the fact that you can give everyone a target and a focus, and we had that going into each game in 2007, and that saw us through. It gave us a focus for 80 minutes and we delivered on it.”
The "wounded animal” tag is often applied to teams that have been beaten, perhaps in surprising or last minute circumstances ahead of them facing their next opposition. It suggests they have a wrong to put right and that this motivation almost makes them more dangerous to face than had that loss not occurred.
Moody disagrees, "No, I don’t think a defeat can put you in a better place. Certainly a defeat can remind you of how hard it is to win matches and refocus the mind to go out and do it.”