Time for a Kick up the Rear?

For Welsh rugby supporters, the last few weeks have been (in the words of the old Chinese curse) interesting. Despite being the reigning champions, they were well beaten by Ireland, to the extent that they were never in the game. As always in these circumstances, it is difficult to assess if this was because they were so bad, or because Ireland were so good.

Come last Friday Wales beat France convincingly – highlights here for those in the UK. So what changed?

Among other things, coach Warren Gatland did two things. He accepted that the coaches should take some of the responsibility. At the same time, he spoke to individual players about their shortcomings, and made it clear that some players might not play again after the next match if performances did not improve.

Public comments by several players both before and after the game commended him for his honesty, and for his direct approach. And something certainly galvanised the team.

Can a carrot and stick approach work in the modern age? It appears so – but with caveats. First, Gatland, as a leader, has been in post since 2007, so he and the players know each other. Second, the players thought his comments justified, and indeed themselves picked apart the team performance behind closed doors. Lastly, he gave the players the chance to redeem themselves.

What this illustrates is that where both leader and team have integrity and trust, glossing over failure to meet required standards does not work whereas confronting it does.