Whether they’re rehearsed or not, a passionate and well-timed team talk can inspire success and these days a coach can often alter the course of a match if he chooses his words wisely. However, a coach’s team talk is seldom heard beyond the dressing room and usually we only see their effects in the team’s performance. Here are three team talks which have gone down in rugby folklore and have helped show just how words and actions off the field can affect performances on it.
Jim Telfer, 1997 Lions tour to South Africa
Facing the then world champions South Africa in Cape Town, the 1997 Lions touring squad was largely written off by both the British the South African press. The team, however, went on to prove their critics wrong and eventually won the test series 2-1 in dramatic circumstances.
Crucial to their success were the inspirational talks given by assistant coach Jim Telfer, whose quiet yet firm and deliberate words galvanised the Lions forwards into a unit which pressured their South African opposition into submission.
Telfer described the first international as the side’s ‘Everest’ and reminded the players that ‘the easy bit has passed. Selection for the Test team is the easy bit. You have an awesome responsibility on these eight individual forward’s shoulders, an awesome responsibility’. He went on to say that ‘very few ever get the chance in rugby terms to get to Everest, the top of Everest’ and that victory would only come about if ‘every player put his body on the line for 80 minutes’. He reminded them that the South Africans did not ‘rate or respect them’ and that ‘the only way to be rated is to stick one on them, to get right up in their faces, to turn them back, knock them back, outdo what they can do, out jump them, out scrum them, out ruck them, out drive them, out tackle them until they’re f****** sick of it.’ Tefler finished his now famous speech by summoning a dramatic call to action: “Nobody’s going to do it for you. You have to find your own solace, your own drive, your own ambition, your own inner strength, because the moment’s arriving for the greatest game of your f****** lives.”
Mike Nicholls, 1972 Gloucester
Mike Nicholls played some 483 times for Gloucester; captaining the side for three seasons in the early 1970s. Under his leadership, his team won their first trophy after beating Moseley in the final of the 1972 national cup. However, to get to the final they had to beat a London Welsh side brimming with Welsh internationals fresh from their success in New Zealand with the Lions.
Gloucester’s players attributed their victory in that match to Nicholls’ inspirational speech in which he told them that they should respect the jersey, that they represented their city and that their opponents were only human, just like them. He told them that they would win and that he believed in them. Against all odds, Gloucester won that day and went on to defeat Coventry, following another rousing team talk, to get to the final of the competition.
The power of Nicholls’ words can be judged from Gloucester’s record under his captaincy – 107 wins from 154 matches with 35 lost and nine drawn.
Nelson Mandela/Francois Pienaar, 1995 South Africa
Not so much a team talk as an historic address to a nation. In the run up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, newly elected president, Nelson Mandela, called on the whole country to unite, get behind the Springboks and forget about the deep lying racial and political divisions which had torn the nation. He also invited Springbok captain Francois Pienaar to meet him and together they forged a friendship that would inspire the team to victory and unite a nation.
When South Africa won, Mandela presented the trophy to Pienaar wearing a Springbok jersey with the captain’s number 6 on the back, in what has become one of the most iconic moments in sport.
If you’re looking for inspiration from some of Rugby’s greatest, check out our blog article on Famous Inspirational & Motivational Rugby Speeches.