I am an avid fan of most sports, but without a doubt, my favourite sport of all is rugby. The last few years have been good ones for Irish rugby, with 2018 standing above all, as we went through the year winning everything available to us between our provinces and national side.

In many ways, 2018 for Irish rugby was the mirror image of the year for English rugby. England started 2018 as the team that everyone presumed would dominate the year. They were on a roll and were expected to steamroll all opponents under the guidance of the wily Eddie Jones as coach. However, things didn’t go to plan…

As unofficially the favourite for the 2018 Six Nations, opposing teams and coaches were focusing on England’s strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps driven by the fear that if they weren’t 100% on their game England could do significant damage, each opponent seemed to be more mentally switched on when playing England than they were against the other teams. On St Patrick’s Day 2018, Ireland travelled to Twickenham, England’s home ground… and won! Not just by a small margin, but comprehensively. The week before that, the Scots had beaten England too but up in Edinburgh. These defeats were then followed by further English defeats during the Summer.

How had this happened? The team that had beaten all-comers the previous year, was now losing match after match. Of course, what had happened was that every other team had looked at England and sought out their weaknesses. They had treated previous defeats as lessons and they learned those lessons well.

I think that there’s an important learning here for all of us, especially in sports, business and anything that has an element of competition: Regardless of how well we are doing, and even if we are enjoying a period of success, we cannot presume that what got us to the top will keep us there. Our rivals will always be looking to improve themselves and if they can see ways to learn from our success, they will do so.

So, constant re-inventing, re-shaping and refining of ourselves is essential to maintaining our edge. Innovation and imagination, openness to learning from the success of others, and willingness to take the lessons from past disappointments and use them as a way to get better, will let us build on success rather than slide back towards mediocrity.

And in case anyone thinks that I am glorying in England’s 2018 failures, there is a sting in the tail for us Ireland fans! Because Eddie Jones took every one of his 2018 season defeats and analysed them carefully. He looked at how his team had been beaten, and at what Ireland in particular had done so successfully, and he in turn devised a plan. He innovated and he changed throughout the latter half of 2018. Players were changed and moved around. Defensive systems were abandoned and new ones brought in. The team was made to bottle the hurt it felt throughout the disappointing 2018 season. Their first game of 2019 was against Ireland in Dublin. We were now the 2nd ranked team in the World and strong favourites to win the 2019 6 Nations. I think most of us know how that game went…

…It’s never a good idea to become too comfortable at the top!

Warm regards


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