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Oct 29

The unity of the Ireland team ensures victory over Australia

 Reflections on Rugby World Cup 2011

RWC2011ended in a nail-biting final between the All Blacks and France on Sunday 23 October, which saw the All Blacks crowned champions 24 years after winning the first Rugby World Cup on the same ground and against the same opponent.  This time the match could not have been closer and all of New Zealand was on tender hooks, especially for the last few minutes of the game.

The six weeks of the tournament were a celebration of rugby as well as all the national teams and their supporters.  Many provincial centres took their adopted teams to heart.  Whole communities were transformed and many become ardent fans of another country.  There was national pride, but few signs of nationalism.  Most of the supporters were good natured and the spirit of sportsmanship was very much the rule, rather than the exception.

I was very fortunate to attend the opening ceremony, thanks to the foresight and generosity of my elder son,  when the New Zealand All Blacks  played Tonga. It was a memorable experience, but the match itself was not much of a contest.  The atmosphere was festive and the vocal and colourful Tongan supporters cheered when the All Blacks scored.  The same applied to the NZ supporters who cheered when Tonga scored a try.  It is easier to show support for your opponent when you are assured of a comfortable victory.

Ireland vs AustraliaMuch has been written about the rugby, but I want to  give my perspective on one particular match, Ireland against Australia.  Tonga beating France probably was the biggest upset, but Ireland's victory over Australia was the one with the biggest ramifications.

The opening match was in stark contrast to the match eight days later between Ireland and Australia. Much as I was looking forward to the game, I did expect it to be rather one-sided in favour of the Australians. The opening minutes showed that the Irish team had other intentions. The atmosphere at Eden Park was electrifying and there was plenty of support for Ireland.  I sent a short email to a cousin in Ireland at half-time when the score was 6-6: “very exciting with the Irish playing well”. Little did I realise what the second half would bring and the 15 players in yellow got an even bigger surprise.

The excitement grew as the crowd, and probably the Australian team as well, realised that Ireland was on the point of winning. There were moments of thinking "this is too good to last, but let's enjoy the moment anyway". The win was richly deserved and the crowd went wild when the final whistle blew. It was one of the best test matches I have been to, and the lack of any tries did not detract from the enjoyment.  For Ireland to beat Australia at any time, let alone a rugby world cup, was a magnificent achievement.

Having cheered the All Black trouncing Ireland many years ago in Wellington, it was great to be part of such a vocal and enthusiastic crowd backing Ireland in Auckland.

There is a unique aspect of the Irish team which warrants emphasising.  Throughout the tournament, teams entered the ground behind their national flag and sung their national anthem with pride.  All but one team, which proudly represented two countries, or rather one country and a province of another.  The Irish team was led by two flags, the tricolour of Eire, the Republic of Ireland, and the flag of Ulster.  These two flags have received plenty of publicity over several decades as sectarian symbols in Northern Ireland.

Irish rugby has managed to achieve a common sense of belonging that transcends deeply held  political and religious differences. It does not seek to deny these differences, but it does create unity around a common purpose, namely the victory of the rugby team that represents all 32 counties.  This is no mean achievement and is in stark contrast to football, or soccer as the game is also called.  There are two national teams, one for the Republic of Ireland and another for Northern Ireland.

The Irish team played with tremendous spirit and with a close bond between all the players.  This was in stark contrast to other team, such as France, which was embroiled in conflict before, during and after the six-week tournament.

The lesson for business is to learn how to forge a team that transcends differences and unites around a common purpose.  One example would be companies joining forces to exhibit together at an international trade fair. A better example would be forming a Joint Venture in an emerging market, as this would require greater commitment and a diverse range of skills.

Simon Fawkes
Business to Markets Ltd