Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Ben Ryan: England have the magic equation to success which will lead to Rugby World Cup glory

The former England and Fiji sevens coach knows all about major finals and what it takes to win them

I have been to watch a Rugby World Cup final. It was 1991 and it was England playing Australia. They lost and the game was pretty average.

I was 19, and I took my dad as I had been working at the Twickenham ticket office. I remember thinking how amazing this would be with players like Jeremy Guscott, Will Carling and Rory Underwood, but the game was very narrow, and opportunities few and far between.

Fast forward to 2013 and I was coach of England at a RWC final - but for sevens. It was in the most horrendous conditions. The pitch in Moscow was practically under water. The electricity had gone out in the players’ areas. We could not have any hot food or hot showers after the semi-final, and we were smashed by DJ Forbes and his New Zealand side.

It was not exactly what coaching a team in a World Cup final should feel like. I left England shortly after that, but I did remember that day when, in August 2016, I was coach in another big global final, with Fiji at the Rio Olympics.

This time it was all I expected and more. It would not have mattered if the electricity failed or the rain came down - the team were relaxed because they all felt what I would describe as “over competent”.

It is part of a magic equation which in my mind is crucial to success. I haven’t read it anywhere, or listened to someone speak about it. This is all from what I do and see and have experienced.

But the team that wins on Saturday - which I think will be England - will have to have mastered this. As a coach and as a player you want to be, and have those around you, feeling competent. In a perfect world over competent.

That is to say they have clear understanding of what is required, and are able to execute that whatever the conditions and pressure.

Also they will be able to adapt if needed, and no matter what happens, feel that it’s OK.

I was lucky to have that with the Fijian boys in Rio, and I’ve been close for sure with other teams. Weirdly, the first school team I coached went on a 47-game winning streak, and they had that, too.

However, with over competency, and the feeling that you are all aligned and immune to whatever happens, can come over-confidence. That’s a killer. You get that, and you can stray from the process and not pay attention to the small detail you were so on top of before.

If you want to win the biggest prizes in team events, then the need to have your best game last is vital.

I think the best way to alleviate pressure is through preparation. If you know your role, know what is required, and understand those around you, then you will feel psychologically safe. That is only going to help reduce your anxiety.

It is good to be nervous, but as my old university sports psychologist - and England’s first in the 1990s - said to me: “Butterflies are fine, just get them flying in formation.”

I'm sure both coaches – Eddie Jones for England, and Rassie Erasmus for South Africa – will be keeping it simple for the players between now and kick off.

The work is done, and it is all about getting your team to the start line feeling excited, and feeling 100 per cent. Training will be short, meetings concise, and any last minute snagging issues resolved.

Small things, like players’ flying family over to watch, can be an interference. The administrative staff from both sides, as well as the tournament, will be stepping in to negate any drama in those areas.

I have watched both coaches, and they look as relaxed as they can be. Getting to the final is a big step for them both, and they will also have a plan they hope will allow them to lift the trophy.

For South Africa, tactically little will have changed from the semi-final. I can see them hoping their kick, chase and scrum will give them the upper hand.

For England, it is the same starting XV that played so beautifully against New Zealand. Their plan will centre on looking to exit quickly, but also play with some width after their bustling ball-carriers have earned the right to do so.

Finally, there is the pre-match speech. I had one all planned for the Olympic final. It was good. Or, at least I thought it was. It referred to the history of the islands, the players’ families and the legacy they would leave.

I walked into the changing room, saw their relaxed and smiling faces. I noted their positive body language, and their small conversations they were having with each other. I realised that anything I would say was just for me, not them. So I simply said “have fun,” and walked out.

Perhaps the team that wins on Saturday will have a coach that has prepared a speech, too. And, like me, they will see they just don’t need it. Because that is the best speech of them all.

Updated: November 1, 2019 10:12 AM

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