English sporting takeover comes with a twist
YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — It’s an English sporting takeover with a twist.
Fuelled by the brainpower of foreign coaches, England is going through a dominant spell of success in its traditional team sports: Football, cricket and, most recently, rugby.
And it has all happened in the space of six months.
It started with Liverpool and Chelsea winning two European soccer trophies — the Champions League and the Europa League, respectively — within three days.
Liverpool, managed by charismatic German coach Jurgen Klopp, became European champion for the sixth time by beating Tottenham 2-0 in an all-English final in early June and could yet be crowned world champion of the club game before the year is out. The team competes in the Club World Cup in Qatar in December and will start as favorite.
A month later, England won the Cricket World Cup for the first time in unforgettable circumstances, beating New Zealand in a final that was decided after a rare “Super Over” by a tiebreaker few had even heard of: Boundary countback.
The architect of that triumph? An Australian, Trevor Bayliss.
Fast forward three months and another major victory is in England’s sights in the Far East, where the country’s rugby team is into the final of the World Cup.
England defeated the mighty All Blacks , one of the most dominant teams in the history of any sport, in the semifinals on Saturday after a masterclass in mind games and strategy by its coach, Eddie Jones.
Who just happens to be, you guessed it, Australian.
South Africa awaits in the final, with England seeking to win the main global cricket and rugby world titles in the same year for the first time. That’s only ever been done once before — by Australia in 1999 at the peak of the country’s sporting dominance which also saw the Australians win the Davis Cup that year.
Jones and Bayliss have transformed the fortunes of their respective adopted national teams, with England failing to get out of the group stage at the previous cricket and rugby World Cups, in 2015. It led to much introspection and soul-searching back home as the inventors of the two sports slumped embarrassing lows and reached out to coaches born overseas.
Bayliss achieved the cricketing turnaround with a relaxed, laid-back approach. He stayed very much in the shadows, giving his players freedom to express themselves. It helped England to the top of the rankings in one-day international cricket for the first time and then a first-ever world title, even if England’s fortunes in test cricket have started to slide.
It remains to be seen how England gets on now Bayliss has left his post and an understated Englishman, Chris Silverwood, is in charge.
Jones, the first foreign-born coach of England’s rugby team, is very much the opposite to Bayliss. Brash, outspoken and confrontational, Jones enjoys using news conferences to shape his own agenda. He relishes the psychological battle, seeing it as important as the game itself. He views it as a way of taking the heat off his players — and it worked a treat ahead of the New Zealand game.
“We will make sure the guys have the right attitude,” the wily Jones said after the 19-7 win over the defending champions, “as well as the right time to relax and switch off a little bit.”
With English racing driver Lewis Hamilton on the brink of winning the Formula One world title for a sixth time, these are golden days for English sport.
Winning the soccer World Cup is still regarded as holy grail when it comes to sports in England, and that hasn’t happened since 1966.
This year, at least, England’s cricket and rugby teams are doing their best to pick up the slack.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80