The success of the RFU's 2015 Legacy plans will hinge heavily on how England perform on the field when they host the World Cup.
In 2003, the Sales Director of a UK DVD production business who'd secured the rights to the RWC Final, walked into the Telstra Stadium. He rang his boss and asked: “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“The good news is if England win, we have sales of over 4 million units. The bad news is that if we lose, we don't have any.”
In short, the fate of this business lay totally in the hands of the National rugby team.
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On the other side of the coin, Clive Woodward, the eccentric perfectionist, a man that wanted to confront predominantly from the left field, planned his war campaign impeccably. Even to the day he won. However, he thought not a moment past that fleeting November day, and nor did Francis Baron, the RFU CEO, who admitted in later years to be astonished by the reaction (and also, frustrated by the gamete of missed legacy and growth opportunities).
On Wednesday, the RFU confirmed their 2015 RWC Legacy Plan, a five-year programme of substantial growth in all areas of the game, but with particular emphasis at the grass roots level.
CEO Ian Ritchie, rugby's favourite tennis Uncle, was at pains to point out that at no time had a deeper consultative process and plan been put together; that he wanted it to include provision for continuing delivered growth for a full four years past 2015 and that, especially with the landmark appointment of RWC 2015 CEO Debbie Jeavons from LOCOG, the RFU would learn and deliver for rugby upon what the London Olympics achieved for the nation.
Steve Grainger, RFU's Rugby Development Director, has also been refreshingly forthright in his foci, citing growth and retention at the 14-24 age group pinch point as being essential, promising to bring 750 new schools online with an active rugby offering, and using low impact versions of the game as feeders into the 15-a-side format. He also emphasised the need for growth in all administrative aspects – from volunteers, to the crucial referees and coaches.
Even the IRB are impressed. They commented to The Crooked Feed that, “No nation had engaged so effectively and early in the legacy process”, and that they were “thrilled with the vision.”
In short, in the terms of the layman, the RFU said they would look to grow the game by 10% across the board by the end of 2015.
It was refreshing to hear both a plausible and passionate RFU rhetoric. Clearly, this time, targets for game growth have been set at ambitious levels. As too has the recruitment drive for players, coaches and volunteers alike. Nor do the RFU claim to be anything other than commercial (for the right reasons) in their view of growing the sport, but in doing so they are embracing the fact that the game needs to be more financially stable, indeed sustainable, within England.
In fact, even their ethos of bringing a set of ethical and sporting values to its participants are sending out resoundingly pleasing messages to the listener, but – and it's a rather big but – the rather annoying fact is that the single biggest shot in the arm the English game could get is winning the tournament in England.
Yes, the RFU have been strategically superb in both articulating a vision and an ambition. They have been clear on the targets on which they wish to be measured and rightly should be congratulated.
But the danger is that they've now set themselves so many different yardsticks that they and others will lose sight of (or, cynically, have attention deflected from) their single most effective marketing strategy: be the best team in the world.
Do this, and the legacy plan will far exceed even the RFU's ambitious promises and the IRB's wildest dreams.
Do not lose sight of what really makes a difference in sport: winning.
By James While