Small margins more often than not make the difference between winning and losing and no stone will be left unturned by the British and Irish Lions this summer when they take on the current world champions, South Africa, in their own back yard.
Warren Gatland is looking to achieve the incredible by leading the Lions to three undefeated tours in a row against all of the giants of the southern hemisphere and having been coached by him personally there is no better man at the wheel!
Much can be made of the culture, team building and leadership required to create a successful tour but the devil is in the detail when trying to extract that extra 1% from the team, something Warren has been instrumental in achieving at every level where he has played or coached.
I was fortunate enough to play international rugby for Ireland during the late 90’s and early 2000’s and although we had a modest win ratio during that time our defeats were, on occasion, quite spectacular!
In 1998, having lost our opening match at home to Scotland 16-17 during the then Five Nations Championship, we parted ways with our previous head coach Brian Ashton and a young 34 year old coach of Connacht named Warren Gatland was put in charge to try and instil confidence and bring back past glories.
“ What a baptism of fire he was walking into as our next match up was France away in Paris, a country we hadn’t beaten away for some 26 years.”
There is only so much a coach can do technically in a week so Warren concentrated on embedding mental fortitude and team spirit as he had belief that we were good players but desperately low on morale.
We arrived at the splendid Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles a few days before the match and were as appreciative of the staff and their attentiveness as we were shocked and fearful having read the French media’s obituary on Irish rugby and the massacre that was about to happen that coming weekend. They were even kind enough to print the top 10 record defeats in international rugby just so we knew exactly where we would stand later Saturday afternoon!!
The morning of the match arrived and nervous tension filled the air as we walked to our team room for our final briefing before taking the short journey to the magnificent Stade de France…..and then it happened.
Warren stood in front of the closed double doors to the team room and said, “Boys, no words necessary from me today, just go inside, take your time and I’ll see you on the coach.”
As the doors parted and we funnelled into the large ballroom we were amazed to see messages from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, from all around the globe, offering words of support and letting us know that no matter what the entire country was behind us.
Messages from all ages, boys and girls, friends and family and proud Irish people dotted in every corner of the world. We left that room teary eyed, 10 feet tall and committed to putting everything on the line to repay the faith that had been bestowed upon us and ensure that no matter how the ball bounced in the ensuing hours that we would earn the respect of the French and the wider rugby community.
Without giving you a full match report, and although we led at half time, we agonisingly came up short losing the match 18-16 having emptied ourselves both physically and emotionally on the field that afternoon. But the seeds had been sown.
The foundations and platform were laid that day for future Irish rugby teams to not be suppressed by fear, no matter what the opposition or venue, and have the faith in our skill, fitness and unity and to never forget that we carry the thoughts of a nation every time we play.
Although each and every note that hung on the wall in the team room was a TNT in its own right, none would have been possible had it not been for a young, newly appointed head coach who sent an advert to the Irish press, which included our hotel fax number on it, asking for messages of good will and support for his boys.
A world class TNT from a world class coach……thanks Gatty.
This article was originally published in Tiny Noticeable Things. The Secret Weapon to making a difference in Business, in April 2021.