Inaugural IRB World Rugby Conference/Exhibition

Dublin – Ireland, Nov 19, 2013: From small margins come big things – something Will Greenwood is all too aware of as a member of England’s Rugby World Cup 2003 winning side.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of their Sydney success, IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition guest speaker Greenwood shared his thoughts on how England went from being also-rans in the 1998 ‘Tour of Hell’ to world-beaters in just five years.

In a session on how to develop a high performance culture, Greenwood told the captivated audience of industry movers and shakers and Union representatives of how the transformation came about, citing attention to detail in all areas, such as nutrition and codes of conduct, as one of the contributory factors.

“It is the small details that make the difference,” insisted the former England centre. “The winning margins between Olympic gold and silver, the number of football games that go to extra-time, and in Rugby World Cups, apart from 1999 when Australia were convincing winners over France, the majority of finals have been pretty close so you would be a fool not to focus on the detail.”

Greenwood also touched upon how learning lessons from the past helped drive England on to be the best they could possibly be, a theme explored by George Gregan, captain of the losing Australia side that November day.

“All the consistently successful sides learn from past setbacks and look at how they can improve certain areas to keep things moving forward. They are not prepared to stand still,” said Gregan, the world’s most-capped player who was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame on Monday evening.

Fellow panellist Agustin Pichot, who led Argentina to their best-ever Rugby World Cup finish in 2007, explained the mind-set adopted by the Pumas on their way to finishing third in France.

“We really wanted to achieve something big and sacrificed everything we had, time with our families, time at work, to achieve something special,” he said. “We didn’t have the most talented players in the world but we believed we were ordinary people capable of creating something extraordinary.”

With the inaugural Conference and Exhibition being held on Irish soil, it was fitting that Ireland had two representatives on the panel in former hooker and talisman Keith Wood and Cricket Ireland Chief Executive Warren Deutrom.

Deutrom spoke of the journey that Cricket Ireland has taken from being ‘the 19th county of English cricket’ to near-Test status in just six years.

Pichot understands that journey, having fought Argentina’s case for inclusion in The Rugby Championship, and is equally aware of the importance of success at the top level in terms of generating growth below.

“In 2008, after RWC 2007, in Argentina we had 33 per cent more kids coming into clubs, that’s 20-25,000 kids. The success cascades down to grass roots level. Kids like to see their team win; that is how you inspire a generation.”

Two fascinating workshops on Integrity and Social Media took place either side of the lunch interval on the final day of the World Rugby Conference and Exhibition.

In the Integrity workshop, Director of Sports Integrity Services Paul Scotney warned “where there’s money, there’s cheats”, with regard to suspicious betting activity and corruption in sport.

While not tainted by the scandals that have damaged horse racing – a sport he has worked in for nine years in his role with the British Horseracing Authority, Scotney stressed the need for rugby to stay vigilant and adopt best-practice prevention and investigation structures.

There was standing room only for the workshop on social media, chaired by IRB Social and Digital Media Coordinator Tom Chick.

The captivated audience watched the first showing of the IRB’s social media video featuring footage from some of the greats of the Game, including Lions captain Sam Warburton and All Blacks centurion Dan Carter.

With input from Engage Sports Media Chief Executive Gregg Oldfield, Chris Hurst, the BBC Social Media Editor, and London Wasps Communications Manager Ali Donnelly, the workshop explored the importance of social media in helping governing bodies, clubs and players connect and engage with their audience, and ways in which content can be made relevant to both sponsors and supporters to help raise revenue.

In the final session of the day, access to Wi-Fi in clubhouses up and down the country was highlighted as one way in which the lost generation of 16-24-year-olds – or Gen L, as the social media gurus would probably label it, can be enticed back into the Game.

Steve Grainger, RFU Rugby Development Director, spoke of how targeting that group – thought to number 300,000 in England alone – was a key focus.

“We see RWC 2015 as a massive opportunity for us to entice some of these players back into the Game,” he said during the discussion on Growing Participation: Growing and empowering the global Rugby community.

“We have to create the right environment for them to want to come back, and it is important that we talk and engage with 16-24 year olds and get them involved in how clubs are run.”

Protecting and promoting the unique values of rugby was highlighted as another positive driver in encouraging growth, according to IRB Vice Chairman and South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins.

This is a core policy of the IRB’s Get Into Rugby mass participation programme, which is delivered around the world by the governing body’s six Regional Associations.

Sharing the stage was Erin Kennedy, USA Rugby’s Youth Development Manager, who explained how young people are being brought into rugby in there through initiatives such as Rookie Rugby and Try on Rugby.

“In the last five years, five million kids in schools and local communities have touched a rugby ball or experienced rugby in some form or another for the first time,” she said, highlighting the potential future growth.

Bringing the curtain down on the inaugural IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition, IRB Chief Executive Brett Gosper thanked the attending Unions, delegates, sponsors, media and staff in his closing speech.

“The last two days really have confirmed that rugby, despite challenges, really is in rude health as sport, as a business and as a cultural phenomenon,” he said.

“This event, if nothing else, really does allow us to voice the benefits and the advantages and the great things that are happening in our sport.” —- IRB

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