LONDON (Reuters) - Humphrey Walters, the man behind the man who transformed England’s rugby team into world champions, says the current squad need to forget about Japan 2019 when they face New Zealand next year in their first clash for four years.
There was no medal, no MBE and certainly no knighthood for Walters yet many of the ideas put in place by Sir Clive Woodward leading up to that 2003 Sydney triumph, including the coach’s famed ‘TCUP’ acronym, were brought in by him.
Now 75, Walters remains in demand as a motivational speaker, helping businesses and elite sports teams find ways to succeed, when his work with England invariably commands most interest.
“Clive was very good, he gave me a blank piece of paper and said your job is that – get on with it,” Walters told Reuters on Wednesday.
“He was very good at getting ideas from any source. Like most good leaders, he was not too proud to take advice as all he wanted to do was win.”
TCUP - Thinking Clearly Under Pressure - became something of a mantra for Woodward, its ultimate validation coming with the perfectly executed lineout move to set up Jonny Wilkinson’s last-minute winning drop goal against Australia in the final.
But it was something Walters introduced having learned it himself during his stint in the Round the World Yacht Race.
With no sailing experience he decided to join up for the gruelling and dangerous challenge so that he would have more credibility when speaking to elite sportsmen.
When he began work with England Walters said he was shocked by what he found, with some feeling playing for their country was a slightly awkward distraction from club life.
“I realised straight away that I wouldn’t have to do much to make a very big difference,” said Walters.
He introduced small cultural changes, such as adorning the dressing rooms with England regalia, getting the players to change kit at halftime and having each shirt personally embroidered with the match details.
Walters said there was some initial opposition but once the senior players understood the reasoning, he got buy-in.
Other changes were more fundamental.
“When I arrived there were no stats – no data on tackles made or missed, ball carrying - anything,” he said.
“I knew that ‘world class’ in missed tackles was about six per match and we were at about 14. I worked it out having sat down and counted.
“The outcome we sought was to improve our tackling and so I thought of rugby league, where a guy can make 40 tackles and has got to be better than a typical union player who might make 12.
“So we went to the guy we needed, Phil Larder, and asked him to improve the tackling to get us to this point.”
Larder became England’s defence coach and played a pivotal role in making them the world’s number one defensive team.
Now, after the setback of going out of their own tournament in the group stage in 2015, England are back on the rise as the number two team in the world with an eye on the next World Cup.
In front of them, as ever, are New Zealand, who will start as favourites in Japan for a third successive title.
England face New Zealand in November 2018, their first meeting for four years, but Walters, speaking at an event organised by sports hospitality provider STH Live (www.sthlive.com/) to mark the two-year countdown to the 2019 World Cup, said they and coach Eddie Jones needed to clear all thoughts of the finals in Japan from their mind.
“They need to go out there and play in a way to win that match, and think only about that,” he said.
“If they go into it thinking about yardsticks or what impact it might have 10 months later then they will be inhibited and play not to lose - which is very different than playing to win.”
Walters said there were things to learn from the British and Irish Lions’ drawn series in New Zealand this year but possibly not what most people might have thought.
“If the England players, or anyone, came away thinking ‘We’re up with them’ they would be wrong,” he said. “Sure the Lions played some fantastic rugby at times but the All Blacks threw it away.
“What rivals can take out of it was the mistakes the New Zealanders made – dropped balls, missed passes, missed scoring opportunities, unreliable goalkicking – basic errors that you don’t associate with the All Blacks.
“So England, and whoever else plays them, have to say to themselves: ‘To beat them we have to avoid making these mistakes, we must take every opportunity.
“It’s not rocket science in sport to say, ‘Get the basics right’, but in rugby it’s probably more fundamental and against the All Blacks it’s your baseline to have any chance of winning.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris