“Of course you start to reflect. It’s 22 years since this happened. I don’t want to sound all clichéd but you begin to wonder how many years you’ve got left in your life…how much life you’ve got left in those years”.
As Denis talks, all that is missing is an Aussie voice in the background providing a countdown to the big day. A big day that looms large. In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the match.
England have done everything that was asked of them. They have fulfilled expectations. They’ve made the Rugby League World Cup final. It may have been the most nail-biting last 5 minutes ever for England Fans when the Tonga side, lifted on wave after wave of glorious harmonies from their travelling fans, nearly dashed England’s hopes on the rocks but despite that, England made it. They’re there. And Following the relief of winning, builds the slow but undeniable pressure of the final hurdle. All of which probably accounts for Denis’ current reflective mood.
I’ve known Denis long enough to know that he is more than capable of applying perspective to any situation but by anyone’s measure a world cup final is a big deal. I ask him what else there is left to do,
“Keep coaching. Not over-coaching but coaching in the right way. Know when to get the guys to hold back, know when to let them cut loose. Help them maintain focus”.
“A time for big speeches?”
“I’m not sure if I’ll be talking in front of the team but I’ll be talking one on one with a lot of the boys. You think about what you’re going to say”.
“What will you say?”.
Many players never even get close to the opportunity. That’s something to savour.
“It depends on the situation and the individual. After eight weeks on tour together you get to know what makes people tick. But it’ll relate to helping them understand the opportunity they’ve got. It’s the opportunity to step onto the stage and show the world the skills, abilities and character you’ve got. It’s the chance to win an Olympic Gold, to be a World Champion, it’s the top of the performance ladder. Many players never even get close to the opportunity. That’s something to savour”.
“What’s it like sending them onto the pitch and then heading back to the stands?”
“That’s what the last 15 years has been for me. It’s about trust. Trust in our planning, trust in our preparation and most of all trust in them; individually and collectively. It’s a journey we’ve been on together”.
“And this is the final destination?”
Exceptional can only happen at the end of a tournament
“I’ve chatted to a few players about the last game. It was a phenomenal experience, particularly in relation to the crowd. Yes the last seven minutes were hectic. It was like playing in Tonga. The volume of the hymns was so loud the guys couldn’t hear each other on the pitch but they handled it fantastically. That’s something to be proud of. It will always be in the memory banks. It was special,” he pauses, resetting, “but it doesn’t matter. To be exceptional we have one more job to do. That was the semi-final. It’s about the final. Exceptional can only happen at the end of a tournament”.
It’s the nature of many things in life that time and effort boil down to one moment in time but perhaps it’s painted most vividly in sport. Dependent on your choice of time-frame this final has been eight weeks, 18 months, or 22 years in the making. And it will all be decided in 80 minutes. At risk of upping the ante further I make the point to Denis. He chuckles,
“From a personal point of view I want to be up there as a world cup winning coach. You’ve talked to me about a three-legged stool and how each leg is as important as the other. For us those legs are represented by attitude, application and discipline. Those three ‘legs’ provide the support for us to be able to perform under pressure because that’s what we’re going to have to do. Take away one leg and the stool falls over. But we’ve worked constantly on those three areas and everyone knows what they have to do to keep that stool upright. We’re solid”.
“I wish I was on a plane heading there right now”.
“I remember a Gloucester v Munster game at Kingsholm. It should have been our home game but the Muster fans came over and completely dominated the environment. It was remarkable. It’d be good to see that happen in Brisbane”.
“I’ll shout at the T.V. as loud as I can”.
“You do that”.
I will. Believe me, I will.
Coach Down Under
This article is part of the Coach Down Under Series.