Rugby’s Greatest Podcast: Who are the best Six Nations leaders?

The first episode of the new World Rugby podcast welcomes Ronan O’Gara, Ian McGeechan, Liza Burgess, Conor O’Shea and Andy Gomarsall to talk about leadership.

What does it take to be a good leader on the rugby pitch?

Some players lead by example, others battle against adversity — both on and off the pitch — while there are those who inspire team-mates to fall in line.

Ireland and British and Irish Lions great Ronan O’Gara says the answer to that question is the “golden ticket to our game”.

O’Gara sat down with James Gemmell on the first episode of the Rugby’s Greatest podcast (Apple / Spotify) to discuss four of the best leaders to have graced the men’s and women’s Six Nations.

In the course of their chat, O’Gara and Gemmell are joined by a roll call of rugby luminaries as Ian McGeechan, Liza Burgess — who features on the list — Conor O’Shea and Andy Gomarsall offer their own take on leadership.

Here are the greatest Six Nations leaders, as drawn up by our esteemed panel.

Brian O’Driscoll

McGeechan: What I enjoyed so much about players like Brian [was] you'd get ideas back, and you'd share them and they'd come up with answers to some of the issues, some of the problems, and then as a coach you could incorporate that.

O’Gara: He was just a brilliant player, but sometimes the brilliant players aren't the most natural leaders. So, he led by his acts more so than his words.

McGeechan: It didn't matter how big his opponent was, he was going to take him on and I think there wasn't a backward step. But, I think he was quite innovative. 

I still believe he's the one centre that changed the breakdown work in the outside channel. He was the first one to really go after the ball in the tackle and start to have the jackal as it became.

O’Gara: It was very interesting for me because I had Paul at club level all the time, and Paul was a man of preparation, a man of standards, a man of absolute consistency of performance, of, I suppose, process and Brian was just the opposite. 

Brian was, ‘it’ll be alright on the night’, laughing on the bus behind you even though he's the captain. He’s chilled out, he's cool, he just ripped teams up. So, it was such contrasting behaviours from two of the world's finest players.

Liza Burgess

Burgess: We just knew there was never going to be a case of ‘this is going to stop’, and everybody that I knew that played the game, there was such drive, enthusiasm, determination and support from within the group. You didn't really look outside it, you just wanted to play, and nothing was going to stop you. 

I remember at Saracens, when we set the club up, there was opposition initially to us going there and then Saracens just completely and utterly embraced us, turning into one of the best women's clubs that there is.

First of all, we were asked to wait on the men, in their games, [we were asked] would we run the shop on Saturday, things like that and we were just like, ‘Yeah, we'll do that’. And, then it was great because at the end of the first season, the actual men waited on us, at our Christmas dinner. 

And, that for me was a turning point when, from the clubs, it was actually they accepted us as rugby players, and they realised what we can bring. They talked rugby to us and they believed in us.

Italy Best Bits: Sergio Parisse scores for Italy at Rugby World Cup 2011

Sergio Parisse

O’Shea: We sat down with Sergio [and] said to Sergio, ‘We'll maybe not get the success that you want, we'll hopefully win the odd game and have some great days. But ultimately, we're setting the platform for 10 years’. 

And, you can see there's a lot of good young talent in Italy now. Still a lot of hard yards to do and hard days to come, but Sergio will have no doubt led the way for so many people, and he's a pretty special person.

O’Gara: One of the key attributes of great leaders is resilience. So, straightaway Parisse’s on a league of his own, because I think you need to pause and digest what Conor has said — over 100 test losses for his country. 

The easy thing for that is to retire after 50 of them. But, the real champions, the real leaders are the guys who get knocked and they continuously get back up. The amount of courage involved in that, resilience, innovation, sacrifice, patience. It’s a fascinating story.

Martin Johnson

Gomarsall: It was always very, very difficult to play against Johnno. I wanted to talk to the referee a lot and Johnno… he just gave you that look that shut you up very quickly. 

But when you were in [England] camp, he wanted you to be on the edge, and for the benefit of the team. And, it was great working with his leadership style and working with him and how he managed the game.

O’Gara: I obviously had the perception that Martin Johnson was serious and very cold and calculated, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. 

I've great memories 20 years later of the [2001 British and Irish Lions tour] to Australia, of the bus trips, of the training time together, yes. But, afterwards he had a really dry sense of humour, he was witty, he had good one liners, and I thought he knew me.

Listen to the full first episode of the Rugby’s Greatest podcast on Apple or Spotify.

READ MORE: Six Nations 2021 in numbers: Anthony Watson, Louis Rees-Zammit and Grégory Alldritt light up Round Two >>

Last updated: Feb 17, 2021, 6:10:11 PM
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