FORMER Scotland coach Jim Telfer believes that Scotland’s first Six Nations win in six games last weekend underlined the value still of strong motivational speeches in dressing rooms.
Telfer’s speech to the British and Irish Lions ahead of the first Test match against South Africa in 1997 has become an internet phenomenon, ‘The Everest Speech’ closing in on 250,000 hits on YouTube. This week he has reprised the speech in a parody as part of a clever ‘Tourism Australia’ campaign to attract supporters to sign up for the 2013 tour down under.
A hilarious take-off, it threatens to overtake the original in popularity, already passing the 100,000 hit mark. Telfer admitted that he enjoyed recording it, even if he is baffled by the speech’s popularity.
He said: “When I was speaking to Martin Johnson [the Lions captain] and the forwards in that room in Cape Town, I never thought that people would be talking about it 16 years on.
“It was always my way as a coach to think quite a bit about what I would say to players before the game, and I would rehearse it on the Friday night, going through key points and links between them. If I forgot a link, which sometimes happened, I’d be lost.
“My idea with this speech was that they had to understand that this was the ultimate for rugby players in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. Having played on Lions tours, and lost, and coached on a Lions tour and lost, I wanted them to realise that they had to find something incredible to reach this peak, that getting here, being picked, was relatively easy compared to actually winning a Test match, base camp to scaling the peak if you like, so Everest was the obvious comparison.
“I don’t actually know whether it made any difference to the players mind you. At the end of the day they were very good players and all you do as a coach is try to get them in the right frame of mind to play as well as they can.
“When ‘Tourism Australia’ asked me about doing the parody, I wasn’t sure. I asked my wife and daughter what they thought, and my daughter read the script and thought it was hilarious, so I said I’d do it. It was a good script and funny, but I felt I had to get myself back in the mode of trying to deliver what was a serious speech to Lions players to pull it off, but this time to fans. To give them their due the guys they got in to work with me were brilliant and we had a good laugh.”
Asked whether he felt there was still a place for such speeches in modern, professional sport, when we hear regularly from players they do not need ‘psyching up’ before games, as the honour of representing their country is enough, he is typically forthright.
“You only have to look at last week and the turnaround we saw from Scotland between the England and Italy games,” he said.
“This idea that it’s their job and they do it week in week out does not recognise the uniqueness of Test match rugby or international sport. I often make the point that rugby is not a team game, but an individual game and each player has a responsibility to do their roles well, whether it’s scrummaging, throwing in to a lineout, scrum-half skills or stand-off jobs, and when they do their roles well then it becomes a team game.
“And playing for Scotland is a one-off; you don’t get a chance to play Italy again the week after, and when I watch players getting off the coach with their big fancy headphones I wonder if that’s genuinely trying to help them focus or if it’s for the cameras, or if they’re trying to hide form their responsibilities.
“What Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan [Scotland coaches] said to them in the week between the England and Italy games made a difference. That performance wasn’t just down to players believing that they had to pull their socks up, but came from a new desire and emotion.
“As a national coach, I would talk to players before a game about their families, the capacity crowd, the people that had brought them to this point, and sought to motivate them that way. It’s not always about shouting or swearing, and as time goes on and they get towards 100 caps these days you can’t say much that they haven’t heard before, but a coach still has a big part to play in helping inspire young players.
“Emotion is huge in international sport. If you listen to the athletes like Jessica Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, Kath Grainger or Mo Farah, a lot of medals in the Olympics were won on emotion; athletes drawing on the importance of the occasion, where they were, the support they had close by, and I think that close emotion was why we got so many medals in noisy arenas like the Velodrome and the athletics track in particular, because the motivation, the inspiration, was there ringing in their ears. And it’s the same in a Test rugby stadium.
“That’s why I’m quite happy to get behind the Lions and Tourism Australia effort, because the more jerseys we see out there this summer the more obvious the emotion is to the players. It is so distinctive a red; you can’t miss it, and to see 20,000-30,000 red jerseys in a stadium that far from home when you come out of the tunnel is just amazing; inspirational.
“I’m sure there were jerseys there lots of supporters on tour in 1989 and 1993, but it was only in 1997 that the sea of red really hit me for the first time, and it grew and grew as the tour went on, and I think the belief in the squad grew with it. So, if I can help persuade supporters to go then great, and from that point of view I’m quite serious in the video when I urge people to do whatever they have to do for their wives to get on the tour!”
Telfer coached Scotland to the 1984 and 1990 Grand Slams, the latter with Ian McGeechan, and is credited by players as inspiring them to the last Five Nations title in 1999. He will soon be 73 but will this afternoon by seeking to inspire the Melrose Wasps under-18s to victory against Hawick Wanderers in the Borders Semi-Junior League, having recently secured a place in the Scottish Youth Cup semi-finals.
Telfer retired from the Scottish Rugby Union in 2003, but he remains a popular figure in the media, not least for his honesty and still, on occasion, fiery ripostes.
“I heard Stuart Barnes say this week ‘for fear of upsetting Jim Telfer, I think this about England’, and I find that funny. I just say what I believe, always have, and sometimes that’s not what people want to hear. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re not.
“But, if people want my opinion I’ll give it. It doesn’t mean I pay any attention to that media stuff. It goes over my head.
“One thing I do think is a bit unfair is the reputation I’ve got for swearing. My mother wasn’t happy when she saw the original Lions video from 1997, but she doesn’t have internet so she won’t see this parody. But it’s part of the game in that dressing room situation; it’s life. I look at these actors Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis and even Dame Judi Dench swearing, and that’s in context of what they’re portraying, so I don’t know why I’ve been singled out.”
That is pure Telfer, and the Borderer just shrugs at the thought of his speech having attracted 250,000 Youtube watches, and Tourism Australian talking of beating that with the parody. Perhaps a new career as a comedian beckons.