(As published in the NZ Herald, July 17, 2022; you can read it HERE)
It was an interesting feeling watching the rugby on Saturday night. I’d guess half the country was actually hoping that the All Blacks lost, because that might finally force the NZ Rugby into action to make some changes.
So where have we gone so wrong? I know as much or as little about rugby as a typical armchair fan. I know a bit more about business where I am a coach and adviser. Saturday’s game had me thinking: what has working with some incredible New Zealand small and medium size businesses taught me that would be relevant for the All Blacks and especially NZR?
FIND THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM
When a business is failing or at least not living up to its potential, the first thing you’d do is some root cause analysis.
This means you ask why, why, why and keep asking why until you get to the root cause of why the less than ideal thing is happening. I really hope that NZ Rugby keep asking why, why, why, are the All Blacks not what we are meant to be.
Especially in a phase when you cannot blame a heap of new blood and loss of experience. It will be interesting to see if NZ Rugby can ask the question multiple times and then have the guts to do what they need to do to address it. Or will they be arrogant and/or weak like businesspeople can be when they do not want to face reality…
After some deep soul searching as to the reasons why a business/team is failing, you’d do some strategic planning. Strategic planning is big-picture thinking around how you will achieve your goals in business.
For the All Blacks and NZR, surely the current goal to consider is to not get knocked out at RWC23 in the quarterfinals. Everyone knows the legend of how, after dire performances, Sir Ted (Graham Henry) and his able lieutenants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen came up with a brilliant strategy at the end of 2007 to give us a close-to-guaranteed chance of glory four years later, which came to fruition.
A quality strategy is hugely important; if you have a poor strategy, no matter how good your culture or team is, you will not win. Our current strategies with the wider All Blacks team are not working — and they haven’t been for some time. We have seen the Northern Hemisphere teams and the Springboks blunt us more regularly than we’d care for since 2018.
Our competitors have been way smarter strategically and have leapfrogged us.
Yes, they have some great players but so do we. I’d hazard a guess and say they are winning because they likely have good to great cultures and brilliant strategies. The All Blacks and NZR need some major new thinking thrown into the equation to come up with some new strategies that will actually give us more consistent performances and a better chance of getting back to the top of the world.
IMPROVE THE LEADERSHIP
The buck stops at the top. I’d suggest we need to look at the leadership team of current players and the coaching team. Leaders need to take almost full responsibility for the performance of their team because they get to choose their team, to guide them and to grow them.
With our national team losing four of the last five games, you do wonder if the team needs to hear different messages than the current leaders are providing. You’d also hope that if the current leaders are to carry on, they’d be open to more self-development and guidance to improve their leadership and ability to react to pressure.
You’d hope that some of the leaders involved would be brave enough to put their hand up for the greater good of the team and say that they are out of ideas, please help me. There is highly likely good help not that far away.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON FUTURE TALENT
All NZ businesses know the challenge at the moment of trying to get staff, let alone world-class recruits. The labour shortage is chronic and it’s stopping companies reach ultimate success. It’s interesting that most rugby armchair fans probably thought that (bar Scott Barrett’s injury) the team that played on Saturday was right up there with the best team that could have been picked.
Yet we lost three-quarters of four.
While there are several other classy Kiwi rugby players who could force their way into the All Blacks A-team, the reality is that we are faced with a true shortage of actual world-class players in NZ right at this point in time. Not many of our All Blacks would make a world rugby 15 today.
Like the NZ labour market, we don’t have enough A-plus grade rugby players to come in and take the place of any of the current team — beyond that, it also seems we don’t have a plan to turn our current best team into a team of A-plus players.
Rugby fans know France’s focus on winning in 2023 on home soil started strategically several years ago with the French under-20 grade teams. What can we be doing to develop more of a labour talent pool earlier in the piece to help our player pool have more depth, so that future players can handle pressure and make the correct split-second decisions that the famous All Blacks teams of the 2010s had in spades?
It will be interesting to see what happens with NZR and the All Blacks in the coming week. I’m really worried about being knocked out in the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2023 at this rate unless we make some brave major strategic changes. Let’s have our fingers and toes crossed for some proper leadership and guts to shine through to change the performance of this team.
Anne-Marie Chisnall says
I must admit I put off reading this article for a couple of days as I’d seen so much commentary about the game (including the interesting point from John Kirwan that the Rugby Union should have backed the coach a whole lot more in the aftermath).
I found your article very balanced and full of good stuff — especially the point that everything comes back to the strategy!
Sean Hills says
Completely agree , and funnily enough armchair critics are quite often right.
Foster and leadership team have to go, refresh needed and ASAP, otherwise we may not even make 1/4 finals. We can’t do a we told you so, and do nothing.
Agree re world 15 , maybe 2-3 max . Not helping any that we’ve had a history of superstars ie 2000-2015 and previous as well.
Lacking depth, Cane has got to go to, too stuck in ways like the current coaches. Kick the ball back to them every time we get it ? WTF, who came up with that hair brain plan? Let me guess , Foster?
Even the players were bagging Foster in interviews , ie Dane Coles wasn’t holding back and Savea.
A lesson on catching from a school boys team might help too? Since when did the all blacks always drop the ball, is the warriors coaching team giving them lessons?
Schmidt and Robertson if they will work together for the better of NZ rugby is the only way forward.
Quite embarrassing to see the team as it is , and agree a loss was a good thing as it’s soils the credentials
Nice analogy to business too.
Ian Cartwright says
On point as always, your telling comment is:
It will be interesting to see if NZ Rugby can ask the question multiple times and then have the guts to do what they need to do to address it. Or will they be arrogant and/or weak like businesspeople can be when they do not want to face reality…
NZR have backed themselves into a corner here, to emerge they may need to admit they were wrong and that generally hasn’t been easy for them. We see it in business so often don’t we? For supporters like us we can accepting losing if we played our best, we didn’t.
Will be interesting but I suspect no change in leadership this year.
Nik Payne says
Good stuff writing this article, it’s going to be interesting to follow what happens next. This is such an interesting conversation and I have read up and watched the breakdown commentary following the last game.
Firstly, Ireland were/are immense. They reminded me of the way the ABs used to play! Let’s leave that there.
One comment that has stuck out for me is the NZR response and how Mark Robinson has not come out either backing or flogging the coaching staff (or the root cause of the problem). Of course an internal review/discussion will happen over the next few days to determine where things stand but listening to JK and Goldie on the Breakdown last night this was one comment I did think carried some initiative.
When you say it starts from asking why and starting at the top I think NZR should be handling this with more accountability. I feel if they came out and publicly backed Foster and Co and said they are 100% behind them right through to the World cup that would be a great move. Even if that was where they stand now, prior to the imminent review where they could say the public will be informed of the outcomes as soon as the process has taken place. What seems to be happening instead is they are undermining the coaching staff without a formal review, especially one that is made visible to the public. On the other hand the coaching staff might just be where the problem lies. The confidence & steel is definitely not showing in Foster’s eyes, the man looks beat which is a shame as he sounds like a lovely guy and feel the comments on social media (especially Wikipedia) have been way too personal in their focus. The analysis and upcoming result of any review will be very interesting to see. I can almost picture the coaches being axed, Razor comes in, totally reinvents the AB’s who go onto win the World Cup and everyone lives happily ever after! Who knows but having grown up watching totally dominant AB teams (Zinny, Fitzy, Jones, Stanley etc) I definitely got used to winning rugby which felt good.
On a different note, what I notice about the likes of Sth Africa, Wales, Ireland, Argentina is that the players 1-15 are all absolute beasts. Like large, muscular super humans. I think the ABs look light weight in comparison. The game has changed over the years so has the shape of the players so perhaps nutrition and conditioning is also a factor that needs to be looked at? Who knows, there are undoubtedly a lot of variables involved with any review. Like you, I’m an armchair fan who cares so I hope asking why (5 times) leads to some change for good moving forward.
Like you, I love the game and now our boy Fletch (9yrs) is into it, possibly more than me! In fact at 9 years old it’s interesting to hear him talk about who he would have in the team. Maybe it’s just a bit of outside perspective that’s required! Like your business minded article so great work getting in out there to put in the mix of thoughts following the conclusion of the Irish series.
Far out, rugby in NZ aye?
Dan Wong says
Read this.. very nicely put my man.
For the NZR to do nothing will be catastrophic.
For the NZR to do something without a high level of transparency and potentially public scrutiny will be …
Change is good…
New coach, new vision, new expectation.
New captain, re-vamped players leadership team, new strategy.
Adrienne Madden says
I love reading about the similarities between high level sport and business. I’ll be watching to see what NZRU do as well, I was more disappointed that Ian Foster didn’t front the media yesterday morning and cancelled at last minute — which we all know is the true strength of a great leader, when times are tough to be there to restore faith.
Kieran Waters says
My thoughts are I don’t believe they are picking the best team on form or for growth.
All blacks team was picked on passed form etc. to many old heads in the starting line up, too many similar players also.
Why have Retalick and Whitelock starting. Should be one starting one on the bench, with a young guy starting.
Barretts, they are the same player. Mounga should be at 10 with one of the others starting one on the bench.
Best fullback in super rugby was Will Jordan…and they play him on wing.
They def need to change it up, and find something that’s going to be refreshing for the players. The all blacks have always had buy in from the guys. Im sure if the freshen it up the buy in will be there.