Inside Project Everest – RFU blueprint to crown Steve Borthwick

Nigel Redman sits in Twickenham - Inside Project Everest - RFU plan to crown Steve Borthwick

Nigel Redman sits in Twickenham – Inside Project Everest – RFU plan to crown Steve Borthwick

Nigel Redman points to the screen. It features a number of head shots from previous England head coaches, ranging from Eddie Jones to Jack Rowell.

Redman knows Rowell better than most, having played second place in Bath and then England, where he has played 20 times, and respects him as a coach ahead of his time, someone who empowers players by constantly challenging them instead. telling them what to do.

Now it is Redman who poses critical questions in his role as Rugby Football Union’s director of team performance and man responsible for “Project Everest”, the board’s coaching succession program that resulted in the appointment of Steve Borthwick as Jones’ successor. .

As Redman first lifts the lid on the process, including his desire to include more women on the next shortlist, most notable is the slide about previous officers during the presentation.

“If you look at previous coaches… Brian Ashton… Andy Robinson, Clive Woodward, and then Jack Rowell,” says Redman. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure how these people were placed. Usually there was only one person for the job.

“Andy [Robinson] He was replaced because Clive left. One of the things that interests me is the whole transition thing. Look at the time David Moyes came after Alex Ferguson. [at Manchester United]; When you have a long period with a successful leader, there is a temptation to go out there and say, ‘This is how we play, this is how we do things’ – there’s something in the culture that says we need to pay attention to that.

Andy, who came in after Clive was a part of the business, was also a casualty of that? [as his former assistant]? After Brian came Martin Johnson. It was an incredible value for English rugby but was that true back then?

Stuart [Lancaster] He was a big proponent of leadership coaching but was very early in his career.

“And when Eddie was put in, Ian Ritchie [the former RFU chief executive] “I’m flying to South Africa to talk to Eddie Jones,” he said. This is something that has always bothered me.”

The story behind Borthwick’s emergence as Jones’ successor reveals a very different journey that began almost two years ago.

“Vase planning is not about looking at an Excel spreadsheet”

The exact date was January 11, 2021. Redman is only days away from his new role by rejoining the RFU (he was previously the board’s distinguished head of coach development and is also a former England Under-20 and Under-19 coach) from British Swimming, where he is also head of performance team development.

It was a turning point.

Redman’s task was to create a program that would end the era of impulsive appointments under the heavy pressure of bad results, and a coaching structure that could sometimes work against the head coach’s best qualities rather than develop them. to them.

And like his old guru, Rowell, he started by asking tough questions.

“I think understanding who we are and what we’re all about is much more important than how we’re doing it right now. Who are we as people, who are we as leaders, who are we as England Rugby? What do we represent?’ And then we want who to lead it,” says Redman.

“When I first sat with Conor [O’Shea, the RFU’s director of professional rugby] and Bill [Sweeney, the RFU chief executive]I literally asked about 150 questions,” he adds.

“Because succession planning isn’t just about looking at an Excel spreadsheet and choosing the next coach and assistants. It starts with trying to understand more about the role and working with that coach.

Conor O'Shea with rugby ball - GABRIEL BOUYS/GETTY

Conor O’Shea with rugby ball – GABRIEL BOUYS/GETTY

“What does it take to be a successful manager of England? What comes first, the person or the necessity of the job?

“When people talk about the England head coach, they’re like, ‘What about Steve Borthwick? What about Rob Baxter? What about Alex Sanderson? What about Scott Robertson? But the first question for me was: what is the job? What does coaching England involve?

“I asked Conor and Bill what the purpose of England’s progress was. Had the new manager arrived at the start of 2024, the first two home games would have been Ireland and Wales – so what was the RFU’s expectation for those two games?

“Are we looking for the best coach? Or the available coach? Nothing was taken lightly as I didn’t know what it meant to coach England. I’m not an expert here. But what I do know is that we have to learn from different perspectives and then make a plan together.”

“Knowledge can be the biggest obstacle to learning”

And so Project Everest began to take shape. To date, Redman’s team has had 69 interviews with key stakeholders in the game, including the RFU board, Premiership rugby directors, players, former England coaches, coaches of other international sports, leaders of major organizations and cultural leaders. This research resulted in an adapted but evolving leadership program.

A global coaching index has also been created that not only details win rates, but also takes into account the status of the team to determine if it needs to be “recovered, maintained or improved”.

“We have more than 250 coaches, male and female, around the world, and we’re looking at the way they coach, some high-level data, and tracking their games,” Redman adds.

The analysis went deeper to bring the talent pool closer to home. “Where are they, who are they, in what role are they now, and where are their gaps?” we asked. Adds Redman.

“Where are the risks associated with them and what do they need to improve? What are the gap capacities to grow? Have they reached the end of their growth? What is their appetite for doing this?

“People say knowledge is power. But I think knowledge can be the biggest barrier to learning, especially if you don’t have the vulnerability to show you need to get better at something. Some coaches may say they won’t tell you what they don’t know; they just say, ‘This is how I coach; that’s my leadership. “It’s my style, and they don’t show any vulnerability. They know what they have is enough to keep them in one job for two years, and then they’ll look for another job.”

“I’ve talked to 67 coaches so far”

Redman and his team interviewed all coaches in the Premiership, Premier 15s and club academies, as well as English coaches working abroad, to identify their ambitions, strengths and weaknesses, and examine the chemistry behind their coaching structures.

“When I talk to head coaches in Premiership, I ask them to think about who they would want to coach and what their team would look like if they were cut off from their environment.” Redman adds.

“I have spoken to 67 rugby directors and assistant coaches so far. It’s about learning about their past stories, aspirations, and learning ambitions.

“We also created a head coach identity framework and seven leadership qualities that emerged from our work – eight, including the identity of the person who practices it, because we call it a leadership lens. Everyone will be different – ​​different experiences, belief systems, different upbringings.

“We can then use this knowledge to guide learning. For example, there is a section on understanding how to manage media under inspirational leadership.

“So we will ask the coach to tell us about his experiences with media – when it went right and when it went wrong. Then we can chat to raise awareness or run a module and really put them through media training under pressure.

“At the top of the peak, there are coaches who can coach there. [pointing at the pitch at Twickenham]There are other coaches under .and we aim to look at how we can help them. It’s okay if they don’t want to go out, but we’ll still help them get better in their own environment. It’s all about developing high-performance coaches. If they’re good enough and have an appetite, then it’s great.”

‘We walked in the hills with leaders from the Special Forces’

Within a year, it became clear that Borthwick appeared at the summit of Project Everest. The former rugby director of Leicester Tigers is at a critical point in hopes of being able to run to the ground as he takes charge of the England team in just over a month to prepare for the Six Nations opening game against Scotland. and collective leadership and mentoring programs.

“I can’t tell you exactly what benefit Steve has, but I’ve talked to him a lot – I’ve talked to other coaches,” Redman adds. “This is the service we need to provide to these coaches.”

Steve Borthwick with arms folded - Dan Mullan/GETTY

Steve Borthwick with arms folded – Dan Mullan/GETTY

What Redman can confirm is that the learning experiences from the program represent a broad church, from working with springboard diving coaches to a college professor working with Special Forces and emergency services on how to deal with stress.

“We introduced Premier League coaches to leaders from different sports on different issues,” he adds. “We walked the hills talking about outdoor leadership with Special Forces leaders, organized for coaching teams to go to Olympic sports, and spent the day with them to look at them from an individual and team perspective.

“For example, Andrew Titterell [the England Under-20s pathway coach] He wanted to learn more about jumping and movement. So I helped him go to West Brom and work with the goalkeeping coaches. He came back saying that he learned much more than he expected, so now we are organizing for him to go to Wolves academy too.

“We also hired a professional storyteller because an essential part of leadership is the ability to tell stories and paint a vivid picture of what the future might look like.

“We also have a professor coming over next month to talk about using language as a performance tool. Sometimes the way we use language when trying to work with an actor can show the power.”

‘When the next decision is made, it will be a real choice’

Project Everest wasn’t about chasing marginal gains, which would take a decade for the benefits to be truly felt. Redman believes it already has a significant impact in providing decision makers with detailed analysis when choosing between a shortlist that includes Warren Gatland, Scott Robertson and Ronan O’Gara – even when the timeline needs to be brought forward. Pressure to sack Jones.

He says the analysis will also allow the RFU to continually review the coaching structure, as it should lead to greater adaptability in order to bring out the coaches’ best strengths.

“Look at Ian Foster in New Zealand,” he adds. “Has the team improved since it was completed with the appointment of Jason Ryan and Joe Schmidt? Has the ability to coach the team improved now that they have complementary leadership?

“The purpose of this [Project Everest] is to identify, develop and support appointments, and I’m really excited by the amount of knowledge we’ll have in five or 10 years.

“Success for me is having more coaches coaching differently within the framework, so when the next decision is made there is a real choice, not just in personality but in terms of how we think the team is leading. What do we think the RFU needs? Who best represents us as an organization, as a nation, and how do we support that person?”

For now, Borthwick has its own mountain to climb.

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