I recently watched Free Solo for the first time. If you haven’t yet seen it, do: it’s the breath-taking, pit-in-stomach inducing story of Alex Honnold, detailing his actualisation of a decade-long ambition to climb El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park with only a pair of climbing shoes and a bag of chalk.
This guy, Alex, defines what it is to be driven and self-motivated. He lived in a van, he didn’t tell anyone when he was going to do his climbs, he practically had no contact with the outside world. And when he completed his climb, his life affirming ambition that is probably the greatest individual human achievement of the twenty-first century, he spent that same afternoon doing finger exercises and pull-ups on the hang-board in his van.
My takeaway from this – and something which, honestly, I probably knew already but it’s a nice analogy anyway – is that to be the best you can never stop, you can never be content with what you’ve got and you can never pat yourself on the back.
This mindset seems to be shared in the RFU where, after a World Cup in England defied expectations in reaching the final, there seems to have developed an ‘it does not stop here’ mentality, and an understanding that they cannot rest on their laurels if France 2023 is to be their year.
This can be seen by the decision this week to replace RFU director of Nigel Melville after three years in the job. Melville has said he is “proud of what the organisation has achieved over the last three years,” but that now “is the right time [to leave] as the RFU start a new era and prepare for the next World Cup cycle.”
Melville is being replaced by former Italy coach Conor O’Shea. Having coached the Azurri for four years, the 49-year-old has said he is “privileged and honoured” for the “incredible opportunity to join at a really exciting time for English rugby.”
O’Shea’s appointment will not revolutionise English rugby on the pitch: Jones retains responsibility of the English team and will not report to O’Shea. However, the former Irish international will be responsible for the leadership, management and strategic decision making within the professional game in England. This willingness to impart fresh ideas after a wholly successful World Cup shows a bravery within the RFU and an understanding that more must be done if they are to go one step further in 2023.
Melville’s is not the only post-World Cup departure. England attack coach Scott Wisemantel and scrummaging coach Neal Hartley, both of whom led England for the final against South Africa, have left their positions in part of what could be seen as a top-down shake-up within the RFU.
Jones, too, has demonstrated this approach, asserting that it will be a new England team for the Six Nations in an attempt to deliver a Grand Slam.
“I tell you what happens to teams – they evolve,” Jones said in the aftermath of the Final. “Some guys will lose desire, some guys will lose fitness, some guys will get injuries and there’ll be young guys come through. So this team is finished now. There will be a new team made. We’ll make a new team for the Six Nations and that new team for the Six Nations will be the basis of going to the next World Cup.”
This is a healthy mentality. One should hopefully lead not to stagnation but development and mean that, in 2023 – two decades after they last achieved World Cup Glory – England can reach the summit again.