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Why Rome wasn't built in a day

Rome, Saracens, Connacht or Lions … it's all an Aristotle habit.


That old adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day", is nowhere more relevant than in rugby.

Aristotle said: "We are what we do repeatedly, excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

I have been exposed to the corporate world as well as professional rugby.

Taking nothing away from the real world – rugby is more instant results driven, fickle and has no mercy.

Let me assure you, getting a squad of strong-willed, diverse people to all work in unison towards a common goal is not easy.

Professional rugby is cut-throat and performances are judged week-in, week-out. A week is a long time in professional rugby.


Career paths can be changed during a week in rugby. For coaches and players.

Through no luck of their own the two clubs I represented in England and Ireland are both playing the their respective domestic league finals.

Saracens has been on this path of domination since Brendan Venter took over in 2009. Winning the European crown has been a culmination of a seven-year process.

As we assembled in 2009, the squad consisted about 60 to 70 percent new players. When Brendan said that first day that Saracens will play in the Premiership Final the same year, the contempt for his statement was evident in the room.


Yet, he did not stray from the plan ever.

Even though we lost in the Final that year, the foundation had been laid and Sarries has never looked back since.

In true Aristotle fashion, the focus has been building excellence, and not merely striving for it on weekends. From the management, up to the owner Nigel Wray's office, it was clear that first they had to build better people and a strong family/community.

Everything else then started to fall in place.Why Rome wasn't built in a day

Not only was the on-field training extremely efficient. A big emphasis was placed on the players off-field and what they did.

Everyone was encouraged to better themselves as people through studies and Saracens had a Personal Development Programme that consisted of monthly workshops and seminars.

It would vary from successful businessmen, old sport legends giving a talks, to full blown educational sessions.

A big majority of the players in the Saracens squad has an academic qualification of sorts. From diplomas to a couple of Master degrees are floating around there.

Although they have adapted their gameplan since 2009, as rugby and the interpretation of rules evolved, the approach has stayed the same.

Saracens has consistency in the coaching staff, they back the players on the roster and they know taking care of the process will allow success – given time.

Their opponent in the Premiership Final is the Exeter Chiefs.

When I played in the Premiership they had just been promoted from the Second Division against all odds under Rob Baxter.

Similar to Saracens, Rob Baxter and the management have installed systems that lifted a club from obscurity to excellence.

Yet again, the success has not come overnight and it has been a seven-year journey to this momentous occasion as well.

A similar approach has been followed by Connacht in Ireland.

'Traditionally the weakest of the four provinces in Ireland, Pat Lamb is bearing fruits from his initial three-year plan when he took over in 2013.

They are playing Leinster in the Pro12 this weekend and long gone are the days that the bookies back Leinster as runaway favourites.

Connacht has always been a tough nut to crack on home turf. We beat European  contenders like Harlequins and Ulster at the famous (infamous if you're a visitor) Sportsground.

But when they managed to beat Toulouse away, I knew something had changed at Connacht.

And it hasn't been easy. Keeping contact with a lot of the players still involved there, it was evident that Pat had installed a work ethic, and enforced the habits that led to excellence.

For all the Southern Hemisphere pundits that will be quick to suggest rugby is of a lower standard in the Northern Hemisphere, let me assure you that across all competitions in Europe there is a higher amount of competitive teams per tournament.

Using an example. Second-placed Exeter Chiefs can easily lose to 12th placed and relegation bound London Irish on any given day.

In a nine-team Currie Cup this year, it will be an enormous upset if a table-topping Lions or Western Province go down to a Boland or Eastern Province.

Just this weekend the Sharks thumped the Kings 53-0.

Similar to all the clubs I have mentioned above is the Lions, based in Johannesburg.

Let me, first of all, point out that of all the unions in South Africa, the Lions has by far the toughest task to build and achieve success.

There are numerous factors that need to be overcome before you can even move on to the rugby.

I will not go into them but just to give you an idea, you can add an extra hour or two just on travelling to get to training for the Lions compared to other unions.  

The Lions train at Johannesburg stadium, which is situated next to Ellis Park. Traffic is a nightmare. Guys travel from all over to get to training.

The coaching staff predominantly live in Pretoria and leave each day at 04.00 to get to Ellis Park to prepare for the training day.

The players follow soon after as they have prayer gatherings and challenge meetings each day before training to set out what they want to achieve so as not to waste even one minute they have together.

When the Lions dominated and won the Currie cup last year, people were hailing this new kid on the block and the miracle that has been performed there.

Yet again, it has been built piece by piece since Johan Ackerman took over in 2013.

He was already involved under John Mitchell and a guy like JP Ferreira has been there since 2008.

They had already started playing the type of rugby that was attracting attention way before the 2015 Super Rugby season when everyone sat up and took notice.

It is easy to forget they lost in a tightly fought Currie cup Final in 2014 and had a whole year out of Super Rugby in 2013.

But while no one was paying attention they were putting the building blocks in place and creating a habit of excellence.

It's easy for us to just turn on the TV on the weekend and think that it all came together in an "Act" of brilliance on the Saturday.

Next time you watch a Final, keep in mind the hard work that has been done to nurture that habit of excellence.

By Ethienne Reynecke



* Ethienne Reynecke is a decorated hooker who played for, amongst others, the Lions, Stormers, Saracens, Connacht and Pau – which has seen him feature in 160-odd first-class matches.

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