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Just as in rugby, tactically in business you need to shake things up every so often if you’re to succeed. In conversation this week, former Irish rugby International turned performance expert Bernard Jackman tells me that while the Irish rugby team had an average Six Nations Championship, they are still our best rugby team ever and 2019 will be another year to remember in Irish Rugby.

Bernard Jackman

Why is he so sure?  Because this team has a renewed focus on what Bernard calls ‘The 4 Cs’: Character, Culture, Cohesion and Coaches. This means they can bounce back and be better than ever. Once the players come back from holiday in mid June they will go into the Irish Camp with a laser focus on the Rugby World Cup in Japan this September. When I met him this week, I asked Bernard (who will be covering the tournament for RTE) to explain his thinking to me.


Scene from Ireland’s historic win over the All Blacks in 2018

2018 was an amazing year in Irish rugby. Provincially Leinster won the Double, whilst Ireland won a Grand Slam and beat the All Blacks for the first time in Dublin. We soared to number 2 in the World Rankings and bookings spiked for the World Cup in Japan. Yet after all that success, we had an average 6 Nations where we struggled for form. Despite this though, I feel that we will still have our best ever World Cup and if things go our way we could win it. Even better, I’ll be there to see it!

First up, Character

The #IrishRugby #HighPerformance system is now producing multi-skilled, robust, powerful athletes who also have the #mentaltoughness and maturity to handle pressure and expectation, and actually embrace the mantle of being favourites. These men see that pressure as a privilege – the privilege of being respected and feared – because it comes on the back of their dedication and hard work.

Some of Irish rugby’s many leaders: (clockwise from top left: Rory Best, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Johnny Sexton

It’s a team full of strong #leaders – Best, O’Mahony, Murray, Sexton, Earls and Kearney – who drive the standards on and off the field that in the long run deliver success. They help Joe Schmidt and his coaches create an environment where it has become second nature to know your role in every moving part of the game and then deliver effectively and consistently. #Accountability is just one area where they really push to extremes, holding themselves and their teammates to account if they fall short. Business can learn a lot from this.

Put #Culture Firmly on the Menu

In business they say ‘Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast’, and while the ideal scenario is to be strong in both, if you could have only one, then culture is the more important as it’s the motor that drives behaviours. And the culture in the Irish dressing room is very strong. They work incredibly hard on the rituals they feel are important to represent the type of environment they want to be part of.

Create ‘social glue’ – Cohesion

Ben Darwin, the former Australian rugby International, now has his own consultancy, Gain Line, which works with elite teams across a range of businesses and sports. Ben argues that great teams are more than just the sum of their parts; they’re the product of the connections within the organisation. Building those connections takes time, and requires buy-in from everyone.

Schmidt has made sure that every player that he thought could go to Japan was involved in Irish squad sessions well before they were ever officially in the squad; guys like James Ryan, Jordan Lamour and Jack Carty would have been used as opposition in camp long before they made the squad. Taking the long view clearly pays off.

Four men sit facing away from the camera are laughing and enjoying a view over a valley below

Hanging out socially together creates stronger bonds

The Irish team also create ‘social glue’ – #Cohesion – by spending time at social events together, whether that’s having Christy Moore come to the team hotel for a trad session, or learning more about Irish history by visiting the Titanic Museum in Belfast. When playing for their country, players will act and behave differently than they do in their province as it’s vital that each team has its own way of doing things – one that’s true to their identity – but it’s clear, too, that the Irish team puts great focus on respect and humility.

Coaches: Lead, Communicate, Delegate

Lastly, Ireland has the Coaches to succeed. Joe Schmidt is one of the best coaches in the world. He is an incredible student of the game, ahead of the curve technically and tactically.  Schmidt is also a brilliant communicator and leader. He has the respect of every single rugby player in Ireland, and when he presents his game plan the players believe that if they deliver they will win.

Joe doesn’t leave anything to chance either, recruiting and then mentoring other quality coaches who also lead – people like Andy Farrell (Defence, who will replace him post World Cup), Richie Murphy (Kicking and Skills), Simon Easterby (Forwards) and Greg Feek (Scrum).

The Irish team has all four Cs, and all were evident during the 6 Nations. Yet we didn’t win the competition. Why?

I think there were several reasons why we were not as good as we could have been. We had some key players either injured or coming back from injury and who were not match fit. Despite the focus on building depth over the last four years we don’t yet have the luxury of replacing one world-class player with another, and unfortunately if Sexton and Murray are coming back from, or carrying, knocks we are going to struggle, plain and simple.

England implemented a very smart kicking game but we had a rookie full back and Keith Earls went off at half time. Being exposed is positive once you learn from it, however, and I’ve no doubt that as a team Ireland will have learnt a lot from that loss and also the loss to Wales, who got an early lead and then defended high up that pitch and were very disruptive at the ruck.

Strong Brain, Great Results

Many believe that when Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters last month, nearly 11 years after his last Major win, it was the greatest sporting comeback of all time.

Now, smarter and more qualified people than me can debate where Woods ranks compared to the likes of Monica Seles, Muhammad Ali or Nicki Lauda, but one thing I’m sure of: it proves once again that quality endures, and that as long as the brain remains strong, the body will follow.

This Irish rugby team is full of players with great brains and fit bodies, but it has also has real heart. This makes them a force to be reckoned with. And Japan the place to be this September.


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