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Heavy loss will only galvanise Reds


Ewen McKenzie

An unpleasant feeling ... James Horwill wonders what went wrong against the Bulls last weekend.

An unpleasant feeling ... James Horwill wonders what went wrong against the Bulls last weekend. Photo: Getty Images

Well I wasn't expecting to be writing about a 60-point loss this week but it does give me an opportunity to put into words a completely new experience in my coaching or playing career.

I feel it is warranted to discuss the pitfalls and opportunities that come with such an unwanted moment.

At this point, it's best to defer to the experts and I have sought the advice of NFL coach Bill Walsh, who dictates the five ''don'ts'' in this situation.

Don't ask ''why me''; don't ask for sympathy; don't bellyache; don't keep accepting condolences; and don't blame others.

It all seems pretty logical but it's easy for coaches and players to fall into the above traps. In team sports, there are a bunch of people involved in the outcome and therefore reactions within the group will vary and so will the external influences.

We never expected such an outcome against the Bulls. We went there to win and even at half-time we still felt we were a chance.

Ironically, I remember beating the Bulls by 81 points during my time at the Brumbies but, in this instance, it's tough not to look to the sky and ask ''why?''. It's also easy to receive sympathy as people are generally kind-hearted and want to believe in the team and their potential.

The biggest challenge is to work out a new course of action without opening the door for finger-pointing.

After the loss, we went back to the team hotel and I did something I have never done before. I sat the team down and we reviewed the game as a group. This was within three hours of full-time.

We created a plan where everyone could sleep with a clear sense of purpose about where we wanted to be in the future.

When dealing with a large defeat, it's easy to get caught in the trap of dealing with the ''do not'' but it's just as important to deal with the ''do''.

Do expect defeat. Not many teams remain undefeated for a season. If you are not expecting defeat, you are a dreamer.

I find you learn more from your losses, so it's a great time for recalibration. Ideally you achieve this by winning, although nothing galvanises a team more than a bad loss.

Do stop yourself from looking backwards. ''Mental quicksand'', as Walsh described it, means you need to keep looking forward and the best thing is you get to play the following week. Atonement is available if you can focus forward, not backwards.

Do give yourself time to recover. Rugby is an emotional sport for the supporters but there is a lot of heart and soul in each performance from players and staff. You need time to recover physically and emotionally whether you win or lose. It's the same process as ''smelling the roses'' but it is not as fragrant. You need to make sure it's only for a small amount of time.

Do tell yourself ''I am going to stand and fight again''. This is very important. We were disappointed with our performance against the Bulls, but a week before we led the Sharks 17-0.

Sport has so many variables that it's a game of chaos. As much as you want to find organisation in the chaos, you will never control everything. I always say a week is a long time in rugby, so, armed with that, we will chase a quick turnaround.

We are coming up against different opposition at a different venue under different circumstances and with a different referee. Lots of things are different before we even look at selections or tactics. It's fair to say that regardless of these two, an improvement in attitude will always be a significant contributor.

Do begin planning for your next encounter. For us this started three hours after our last game and we all went to bed with a vision about where we are going and what needed to change. Being active here is critical as it provides solution and hope. The worst situation is to say I don't know what to do.

The final point, which is difficult, is to front up. It's always best to face the media and put your hand up. The brickbats will come, but you will earn some respect for admitting you got it wrong. It's not about excuses, it's about telling everyone you know where you are going and you know what needs to be done.

Leadership is important in the tough times and it helps if you know the do's and don'ts.

19 comments so far

  • Well written Link but one of the other things is to stop looking for magical answers from some other expert. Look at yourself first. Stop experimenting with left field selections which destroys the confidence in your team and get back to basics. Why didn't you play Jono Lance at 10 ? Very silly. Why are you playing Rod Davies at fullback ? Very silly. Why do you keep playing Ben Daly when it is obvious he can't prop to save himself ?. Very silly. Dont play Samo in the backs. I thought only Deans was that silly. And when Cooper comes back leave him at 10 and tell him to tackle or he is out. Leave Taps at 12. He's the best in the country there. OK ? Stop being a d....... and keep it simple s......, like you did last year. It's really not that hard. And tell Beau Robinson Super rugby is not a joke so get rid of the feral beard and start looking like a professional. With a bit of luck he might start playing like one. Over to you.

    Date and time
    March 29, 2012, 10:24AM
    • Ouch !!

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      March 29, 2012, 11:12AM
  • maybe it was caused by those girly t shirts they were wearing

    Date and time
    March 29, 2012, 10:46AM
    • It was blatently obvious last season that the Reds were just pretenders and did'nt deseve to win the S15 title as the Crusaders were by far the better team and only a rare off game in the final robbed them of the title.Now we are seeing the true nature of the ineptitude of the Reds and Australian rugby in general and the false hopes of deluded Reds fans realised.

      johnno cody
      Date and time
      March 29, 2012, 10:46AM
      • Johnno you are a typically misguided Kiwi. With injuries and suspensions to 10 key players from last year (oh yeah that's right we beat the Crusaders twice last year) you can't exactly compare this team to the title winners of last year. End of story.

        Date and time
        March 29, 2012, 11:22AM
        • Still sucking on kiwi lemons Johnno - sooooo bitter - hahaha

          Date and time
          March 29, 2012, 11:43AM
          • Good article and very well written but in reality a load of codswallop. You win some and you lose some. Teams get caught up in the hype and believe in their invincibility, and the Reds were guilty of this. Nothing more and nothing less. Every team does it and every team searches for answers. Just put it behind you and get on with winning.

            Sir Alex Ferguson was asked about the massive 6-1 MUFC loss to Man City last year in the post game interview and he simply said he has forgotten it already. MUFC is arguably the most successful Football team anywhere and Sir Alex has been their coach and manager for over 25 years. That is what you need to do mate.

            @Johnno Cody should take note of this also, because even the Crusaders, as you pointed out, have a rare off game. The scoreboard is the final judge, so stop whining and enjoy the rugby!!

            @Andy, have to agree mate, those jumpers were a little effeminate!!

            Date and time
            March 29, 2012, 11:43AM
            • Well if it's true that you learn more from your losses than you do from your wins, I expect the Reds to be extremely clever by the end of the Super Rugby season.

              Blinky Bill
              Bellingen NSW
              Date and time
              March 29, 2012, 12:04PM
              • An excellent article from Ewen. It is easy for you armchair critics to give all the advice from the sidelines but Ewen has done it. Whatever you say it does not belittle the fact that the Reds won the Super 15 last year and a major part of that win was Ewen's leadership.He understands players and communicates to them well. He is a great thinker about the game and more importantly he is very modest.Wait till the end of the season before you pass on any more judgement.

                Date and time
                March 29, 2012, 12:11PM
                • Johnno, your precious crusaders have also lost two games this season mate. How can you say the Crusaders were the better team? The Reds were minor premiers and premiers, so the claim that they only lost due to an off game is ridiculous.
                  Stick to facts you fool.

                  Date and time
                  March 29, 2012, 12:25PM

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