Rugby: England – Beyond 36-0

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As England prepare to face South Africa in the World Cup final, one of the big questions being asked, is how do England put behind them the 36-0 defeat imposed on them by their opponents, a few weeks ago? Surely it will have shaken them psychologically?

Surprisingly, it may turn out that the 36-0 has benefited England more than it has South Africa. 36-0 saw England at rock-bottom. The World Champions faced returning home – embarrassed; ashamed. No ticker tape welcome this time. No Heathrow airport jammed to overflowing.

The fear of that shame galvanised the squad into action. Rock bottom is an uncomfortable place to be. But it can also be a catalyst to change. They examined the root cause of their under performance, and found a way to put it right.

In taking responsibility for their actions, the players discovered their own solutions. They took ownership of the team. It became their team. It’s the difference between being an employee and being self-employed. When you are self-employedeverything matters. The boss will not find a solution to your problems. You are the boss. Thus every player becomes charged with finding solutions to on-field problems. It’s a coach’s dream scenario. A team of leaders.

Compare this to Ireland’s early demise where the players did not appear to take ownership of their problems. Their collective lack of energy was the sign of a team reliant on management solutions to problems they had the capacity to solve, but perhaps, weren’t trusted to do so.

The games against Australia and France will have proved to the England players that they found the right solution to their problems. This will have led to a power surge in belief. Therefore they can look back on the South Africa game and explain to themselves why they lost 36-0. They saw the problem, found a solution and the solution worked. They know it will not happen again.

However the 36-0 also alerts them to the dangers South Africa possess. And a fear. A fear of what South Africa are capable of. This fear will cause an increase in intensity from England. An increase in intensity to counter the live dangers from the Springboks. Intensity in Focus. Concentration. Attitude. Intensity leading to another 1-2% in performance.

England cannot change the 36-0 defeat. But they can be thankful of the lessons it afforded them, in their quest to make history. It was the catalyst that changed their World Cup.