On Saturday October 20th 2007, England played South Africa for the world cup. The English newspaper headlines quoted the famous order given by Nelson on a distant October day just before the battle of Trafalgar: “England expects!”
“England expects that every man will do his duty” was the full signal sent by Nelson from HMS Victory as the battle was about to begin on October 21, 1805. The victory at Trafalgar gave Britain and Ireland control of the seas.
However, one journalist at least who was commenting on the rugby battle in prospect, felt that England did not so much ‘expect’ as ‘hope’ for victory. Successful people tend to ‘expect’ victory rather than ‘hope’ for it although hope can keep you trying.
The opponents this time were not the French, as at Trafalgar, but the South Africans. Just 36 days after being humiliated 36-0 by the Springboks, could England shock the South Africans and the world and become the first side ever to win back-to-back World Cups?
Laurence Dallaglio, the England Rugby legend, later wrote in his book about the competition:
“In the early days of our preparation, there was a sign on the changing room wall at Twickenham that just said “STW”……Somewhere along the way, the Da Vinci code was cracked and “STW” was revealed as “Shock The World”.
“Everyone thought it was a pretty clever message. Then Andy Farrell tapped me on the shoulder one evening and said: “Know what it should say?” “What?” “SOS,” he said. “SOS?” “Yeah, Shock Our Selves.”
Andy may have been right. Successful teams need to shock themselves, before they can shock the world. You have to shock and amaze yourself first if you plan on shocking and amazing others. Maybe, he also meant that England were in need of outside help! Aren’t we all?
South Africa had beaten England in their last four games but the previous seven had all been won by England. Pienaar, a former Springbok world cup winning captain, was asked if he thought South Africa would defeat England in the Final. His reply was typical of his humility and common sense:
“If South Africa are complacent they will lose. England are a brotherhood; they are fighting for the ball. There is an edge to the team.”
Brian Ashton, the England head coach, was asked: “Why did England beat France? What do you put it down to?” He replied:
“Tremendous determination from a group of players who just don’t want to lose. They were hurt by the defeat by South Africa. We determined that nothing like that would ever happen again.”
No one knows who will succeed for sure in any venture but the attitude that is most likely to succeed is one of whole hearted determination to let nothing stop you from achieving your goals.
Laurence Dallaglio said much the same thing: “The will to win can often beat the skill to win.” Successful people also know that, if they want success badly enough, they can learn the skills necessary to achieve it.
Ashton mentioned the talent in the England team: “England have some top players. No 10 Jonny Wilkinson is one of them.”
Jake White, the South African coach, also understood the value of Jonny Wilkinson: “Jonny doesn’t have to play well. He gives others around him so much confidence.”
Confidence or belief in one’s ability to succeed is a huge factor in any success. The interviewer asked Ashton the sixty-four dollar question: “Are you going to win it?”
“It’s a two horserace now isn’t it? I hope they are going to make millions of people happy in England. ”
Ashton, unlike Nelson, did not ‘expect’. He only ‘hoped’. Trafalgar, after all, was almost a two horse race – England versus the combined fleets of France and Spain.
Of course, to be fair to Ashton, no one can be sure of winning even a two horse race. Little things can change the course of a game. Francois Pienaar, commented shrewdly:
“In a rugby final, it is about the bounce of a ball and an ankle tap tackle. An ankle tap saved England from defeat by France. A bounce of the ball against Ireland sent them home.”
Martin Johnson, the captain of the 2003 world cup winning English team commented: “Mistakes will happen. If they do, we have to sort them out with something good.”
Johnson believes in action rather than words. Don’t feel bad about your mistakes. Do something to make up for them.
One commentator said: “England have nothing to lose and they are beginning to believe. They are beginning to believe.”
South Africa, too, had good reason to believe and to expect to win. They had an excellent record of victory after victory both before and during the world cup.
They also had a balanced team of youth and experience. Ominously for England, they had the best penalty kicker in the competition – Percy Montgomery and a long distance kicker in Steyn.
England kicked off and some of the team almost reached the South African line. A little later, Tait gave away a penalty right in front of the English posts. The writing was on the wall. Montgomery seldom misses. 3-0 to South Africa.
However, Jonny Wilkinson countered with a brilliant penalty kick. 3-3
After fourteen minutes, Moody gave away an unnecessary penalty as he tripped a fast running Springbok. “I saw that!” said the Irish referee, Alain Rolland. 6-3 in favour of South Africa. Pienaar commented rightly:
“Sticking your foot out can cost you the cup.”
Jonny missed a drop kick from a good position. He was not at his best. Montgomery was. Francois Steyn missed a long range penalty. He would make up for this later.
The score stayed at 6-3 for South Africa for a long time. Just before half-time the Springboks were close to the English try line. Rossouw picked up the ball and drove for the line. He was held up a foot short. Sheridan entered the scrum from the side and gave away a penalty which possibly saved a try.
Montgomery did not miss the kick and South Africa were in the lead at half-time by six points. 9-3. In every World Cup final so far, the side who’s been leading at half-time has gone on to win.
However, it would be silly to write England off. South Africa had not shown greater talent or aggression than England but they had not made the same number of mistakes as England and they were dominating the lineout.
Johnson said that England should: “Up the tempo and not go home with any regrets.”
Four minutes after half time, England were not awarded a try which they seemed to have scored. Cueto had gone over the Springbok line close to the corner flag. Tragically for England, he had put his left foot about an inch into touch just before he reached the try line.
Small things change matches and you just have to live with them and not with what might have been. You can only play within the reality of your situation and not with the points you feel you should have gained.
England were, however, awarded a penalty for an earlier infringement, and Wilkinson converted from a tough angle. 9-6 to South Africa but England were catching up.
However, after fifty minutes, hands in the ruck from Corry handed a penalty gift to the Springboks. Montgomery brought his points tally to 12. South Africa 12 England 6.
There was only a converted try between the two sides. England could still win.
After fifty-seven minutes, England were looking dangerous and were starting to take risks. South Africa seemed content to contain them and wait for their mistakes.
Gomarsall sent a kick into the end-zone for Flood to chase but Montgomery got there first. He was rewarded by being pushed by Flood. into the advertising hoarding. He cleared this and banged heavily into a very solid metal camera.
My respect for Montgomery rocketed as he climbed back over the hoarding into the field of play without a single complaint even though he must have been in considerable pain.
After sixty two minutes, England were punished for an illegal block. Steyn kicked the penalty over from 48 metres. 15-6 to South Africa. The Springboks were nine points ahead.
Johnson had not given up: “Let’s keep on going. Something might break. We might as well lose by 16 points as 9.”
Nothing did break and, at full time, South Africa were world champions. They prepared to accept what was rightfully theirs – the world cup.
England had tried hard but had failed to beat a South African side who defended with determination and who punished England’s errors ruthlessly. The Springboks had been the best team in the entire tournament. There were no complaints from the English players and commentators:
Martin Corry: “We played with heart and courage but it is so sad when it is all wasted. To be so close and not do it is so heartbreaking.”
Jonny Wilkinson: “The South African team deserved to win. They’ve been fantastic all tournament.”
There had been no surrender from England but they had just come up short and it hurt. In the end, the final was one match too far. Pienaar, as usual, had a generous comment: “The disallowed try was a huge moment.”
Johnson said: “The back line gave it a go but it just wasn’t good enough. England have done something special to get here. We had a chance to win it but didn’t.”
Laurence Dallaglio wrote later: “It pains me to say this but, given our preparation, getting to the final was a victory in itself and one that reflected great credit on some truly great players. The pain lies in the fact that second place should never be acceptable to an England player. We go to every tournament to win and, if we don’t do that, we fail.”
Fran Tarkenton, a former NFL quarterback, had a different view of success perhaps because he had reached the superbowl three times with the Minnesota Vikings and lost all three finals:
“Success, in my view, is the willingness to strive for something you really want. The person not reaching the top is no less a success than the one who achieved it, if they both sweated blood, sweat and tears and overcame obstacles and fears. The failure to be perfect does not mean you’re not a success.”
As for STW and SOS – England had already shocked the world and themselves by defeating Australia and then France. They were no longer a laughing stock and could leave France with their heads held high.
As usual, several important success lessons can be learned from this game:
Expect to succeed and, if you can’t do that, hope to succeed. Hope will keep you trying.
Amaze yourself first, if you plan to amaze others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a higher power.
Do not be complacent. Respect the opposition.
Show tremendous determination to achieve your success goals.
“The will to win can often beat the skill to win.”
If you want success badly enough you can learn the skills necessary to achieve it.
Confidence or belief in your ability to succeed is a huge factor in any success.
Don’t worry about your mistakes. Do something to make up for them.
You can only respond to reality and not to what you wish had happened.
Keep on going and something might break in your favour.
Don’t be content with second place. Always aim for first place.
Strive with your blood, sweat and tears for what you really want. Overcome your obstacles and fears and you will be a success whether you come first or not.
After the competition, the winning South African head coach, Jake White, lost his job. The runner up, Brian Ashton, was given just one more year on his contract as England head coach and Eddie O’Sullivan, the head coach of the Irish team who had exited the competition early on, was given four more years in charge!
Brian Ashton, probably, did not receive enough appreciation for his flexible style of coaching which did not suit some of his players who preferred a clearer and more dictatorial style. He described a lesson he had learned from the competition which applies to us all: