LIKE MANY businessmen, Sir Clive Woodward, the enterprising head coach of England's 2003 World Cup winning rugby team, is fond of presentations containing charts, bullet points and abbreviations.
As the engaging Woodward concedes, these performances caused rolled eyes among the players when he took over the England job in 1997. The description in his book, Winning! (Hodder & Stoughton) of the team running around in practice games shouting 'CTC!' (Crossbar, Touchline, Communicate, for spatial awareness), or even better 'T-Cup!' (Think Correctly Under Pressure) is deeply cherishable.
But wacky is not the same as flaky. In the Telstra Stadium, on the rainy Sydney night of 22 November 2003, in the last minute of extra time in the World Cup final, CTC and T-Cup paid off in hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades.
As England threw in the ball for the crucial play, the players knew, from systematic analysis of hundreds of games, that 70 seconds was more than enough time to win - as long as they kept their heads. It takes just 20 seconds to score a try, and a team retaining the ball through five successive phases of play has an 85 per cent chance of scoring.
In the event it took three phases, accurately executed under desperate Australian pressure, for the team to position Jonny Wilkinson for the famous drop-kick in front of the posts. Wilkinson's right boot did the rest, giving England their best sporting moment since the football World Cup of 1966.
The preparation for that last minute sums up Woodward to a T. Unlike many sportspeople, who sell motivation to the business sector, he insists sport needs to learn from the professionalism, attention to detail and entrepreneurialism of business.
'You don't get lucky,' he says flatly. 'There's risk in saying this, but you want to work in an environment where there are absolutely no excuses. My job was simple: to give Martin Johnson the best chance of winning the World Cup. We had to be favourites, the best planned, the best prepared team.
'You have to make [the players] feel very special, very elite, the best qualified in the world. That way you can demand the best. If you give them every chance to be successful, it's then up to them to grab it, just as we did in the World Cup.'
Nine months after that win, the manner of Woodward's explosive departure was also revealing and consistent. He believed that, although the players had been specially made available for his brand of intensive preparation, England had in the end won despite, rather than because of, the system.
It could only win again, he reckoned, if the level of preparation could be moved up another few notches, towards perfection - keeping ahead in the business of rugby demanded nothing less. When it became clear this would not happen, he departed in a thunderous display nearly as dramatic as the victory in the rain.
With something near a grin, Woodward concedes that now he can see the other point of view. 'Water under the bridge,' he says briskly, acknowledging that, until that final clash, '99 per cent of the time the RFU [Rugby Football Union] was fantastic. They supported what we did, they allowed us to put in place something quite special - and we delivered.'
Fashioning one of the most professional sporting teams in the world in a deeply traditional game such as rugby entailed a cultural change for which only a small-business background could have prepared him, he says. While Woodward also had a rewarding career at Xerox, 'of all the experiences, including playing rugby for England, setting up my own firm was the best grounding for the England job, quite categorically.'
From establishing his own business he learnt the primordial importance of making the right appointments, both for playing and management teams. 'Leadership,' he says simply 'is picking the right people. You win more matches by right selection than in any other way. If you have the right people in your team, you don't need to worry about motivation. But one wrong person can cut the legs off everyone. If you make a bad decision you have to change it, however hard that is.'
Small business also taught him the imperative need to get things done, never mind the niceties. When Woodward first arrived at Twickenham he found he did not even have an office, since it was assumed he would work from home. He scrimped and saved, borrowed or got around funding shortfalls by invention and lateral thinking.
His approach to sponsorship was typical. The England players were bemused (again) to find themselves equipped with full mobile IT kit, including laptops from Elonex and phones from O2. Some of them had never used a computer before. But these were not perks, rather a bonding device for a team that spent far more time apart than it did together.
Despite the lasting reverberation of slammed doors at Twickenham, Woodward will almost certainly be back as a full-time rugby coach (see page 1, Sport). But in the meantime his ideas will be tested to destruction on the forthcoming British Lions tour of New Zealand. There is no history of winning against New Zealand, the most intense rugby-playing nation in the world - of 10 test series, the Lions have won just one.
Woodward says: 'When Brian O'Driscoll leads the players out in the first test in Dunedin on 25 June, my job is to ensure they're the best prepared team ever in a Lions shirt. That gives them half a chance. We have to work back from there and fast-track everything we've learned in six years in a matter of weeks.'
That will require a wholly new approach to training - which is why the players are currently marvelling at some methods that seem a lot stranger than flip charts. History may be against them - but then who would have bet that England would win 14 games against the southern hemisphere teams in a row? 'I just have a sneaking feeling,' Woodward says, 'that we could cause an upset if we get it right.'
The Observer, 15 May 2005