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The Glass Ceiling

by James While

13 November 2015

IN management speak, there is something called ‘Vision Level’.

It depicts how you perceive the world; how you perform, how you manage and how far up the greasy pole of senior governance you are able to travel.

Those that see the ‘bigger picture’ are said to have universal levels of vision; those that make the tea are perceived as having ‘task vision’.

The key point here is you cannot change your vision level. You cannot see the world through eyes that are not yours and any attempt to do so results in abject confusion.

Here’s the thing; Stuart Lancaster is brilliant as a tactical manager, but throw him the word strategy and he’d need to consult the RFU Comms team for the meaning of the word.

England’s failings are, almost to a collective, strategic failings as opposed to tactical ones.

The big questions such as selection of overseas players, Sam Burgess, discipline issues are all left unanswered, and any answer that may have been forthcoming would almost certainly be voiced by Lancaster but, de facto, answered by the men above him which as a situation, is far from ideal as those above are more knowledgeable about Men’s Singles Finals than Rugby World Cup Finals.

Stuart LancasterThe truth is Lancaster, an admirable and well-meaning man has reached a glass ceiling of his own vision and ability. A man continually damned by the faintest of praise during his tenure, popularist views of Lancaster are ‘he’s an honest man’ or, ‘he gives everything’ , which alludes to the fact that the Cumbrian has nothing left to give; no more inspiration, no more ideas and no more motivational pieces left in his locker.

Lancaster, for all his wisdom in many areas, can be phenomenally naïve in others. Witness how Michael Cheika made the key move of getting his best XV on the pitch and compare that to England’s lily-livered excuses (underwritten by the RFU) for reasons why they could NOT get their best XV on the field and you’ll see that each man was master of his own destiny; Cheika benefitting from the brilliance of Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau whilst England was hampered from the self-inflicted losses of Steffon Armitage, Nick Abendanon and Dylan Hartley.

Armitage Abendanon Hartley

Indeed, the All Blacks and Australia are far superior at managing their way out of a player crisis. If they’d been faced with the issue of Hartley, the player would have been publically hung out to dry, made to apologise and made to serve some form of community penance. However, what they would NOT have done is sanctioned the players on pitch, because when doing that, the only people penalised are the team-mates and staff trying to win, and the fans supporting their team.

And whilst this debacle unfolded, the RFU became increasingly less self-aware. Witness comments like ‘great success’ and ‘building on Stuart’s legacy’ actually makes you wonder who is measuring what and with what yardstick?

Chris Robshaw Stuart Lancaster RWC2015

You see, if you measure the RFU according to SIC classification (Standard Industry Classification), they are a hospitality and leisure business. And, on a balance sheet, would outperform most competition by miles.

But they're not. They are a governing body with a pastoral responsibility to the game. So any measure of the SIC thing (which Ian Ritchie uses) is inapplicable. Far more important, in the words of Sir Clive Woodward, are the intangible tangibles, and with some irony, one could take a leaf out of Stuart Lancaster’s book of measurement.

He says, and is right, that there are both subjective and objective measures of a player-

  • Objective- how fast, how many tackles, how many offloads?
  • Subjective- how do they contribute to team environment? Are they disruptive? Integrated?

The RFU needs to measure in the same way. Profit is NOT the be all and end all of the RFU, as without growth of the game via success, there will be little to re-invest those profits back into.

It is clear that, in selfish and Anglo-centric terms, the measurement of Rugby World Cup success is the performance of the national side. This informs everything - participation, enthusiasm, bar-room chatter and so on.

Frankly, if you forced the RFU hierarchy to measure via that method, then they are, to a man, abject failures. The key here is good strategic business people are very good at steering the measurement into what they personally can control and succeed at, and that’s exactly what’s happened back at RFU PLC. It is without debate that the key indicator is the performance of England Rugby on the international stage, and any attempt by the RFU to deflect that thinking is wholly wrong.

Stuart Lancaster Ian Ritchie England Media RWC2015

It is lamentable that CEO Ian Ritchie has led this review without challenge to his position. He himself is at the centre of a lot of decisions, as are COO Steve Brown (though currently seconded to England 2015), Rugby Development Director, Steve Grainger and our old friend, Rob Andrew (Professional Rugby Director).

The simple truth is if you got every single scribe, commentator and fan of English rugby in the same room before the competition, asked them to name a squad, they’d all have picked the same 25 or 26 players Lancaster did, with a variance around the fringe selections. The reason? They are the best players we have available, simple.

The most worrying words were 'a narrow focus' of the inquest. Why? To obviate the ultimate decision makers of any form of responsibility for the ongoing laughing stock that is English Rugby?

Ian RitchieThe nub of the matter is the RFU have yet again hoodwinked the public with wonderful platitudes and masterly inactivity at the root cause of the issues.

It is astonishing that the very man who appointed Stuart Lancaster is now allowed to find a successor, despite his abject failure first time around. It is ridiculous that the appointment will be made by a man who has never set foot on a senior rugby pitch in anger or heat of the battle, as by those measures he has no clue what it takes to win.

If things continue as they are, the RFU would be advised to send a four-year re-occurring diary initiation to every journalist in the country to witness the public execution of the Head Coach as, under the current regime of narcissistic delusion, England Rugby will go back faster than their pack did against the Australian Scrum.