‘Talent v. Character’: The Crusaders Way…

Talent Character Grid The Crusaders Way

The graph creates 4 quadrants:-

  • Someone with NO Character and NO Talent
  • Someone with NO Character and Talent
  • Someone with Character and NO Talent
  • Someone with Character AND Talent


  • Natural aptitude or skill.



  • The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual;
  • The distinctive nature of something;
  • Strength and originality in a person’s nature;
  • A person’s good reputation;
  • A written statement of someone’s good qualities.


So who would you pick in your team…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

In the high pressure cauldron of sport who would you want next to you by your side…? Who could you trust to do their job in the team…? Who could you rely on to be there at the right place…at the right time…? Who could you lean on to help find a solution to solve a problem…? Who could you depend upon when the chips are down and things are not going your way…? Who could you count on to push themselves that bit further during a tough ‘team bonding’ conditioning session…?

…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

Team Philosophy…Team Ethos…Team Culture…Team Spirit…Team ‘Rules’…all play their part into the type of player…the type of person…a team would pick…

This approach/philosophy came to me during my time with the Canterbury Crusaders during August 2009…in particular my discussion with Matt Sexton, Academy Manager 2005-2011, for the most successful professional rugby franchise in Super Rugby history to date.

The Crusaders Honours Board in Super Rugby:

  • Victories in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008
  • Finalists in 2003, 2004, 2011, 2014
  • Semi-finalists in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013


  • 1996-2001: P72 W40 Win-rate 56%
  • 2002-2014: P194 W139 Win-rate 72%

In 1996 the Crusaders finished bottom of the Super 12 ladder…so what led them to such unprecedented success in the Super Rugby Competition and a change in fortunes…?

…who would you pick in your team…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

On return from my trip to the Southern Hemisphere; from 2009-2013 we applied this principle to the Denstone College 1st XV (Staffordshire, England) and it stood the team in great stead…with an unprecedented run of success never seen at the College dating back to 1899…the first unbeaten season in 43 years…2 unbeaten seasons in 3 years (only the 4th & 5th unbeaten seasons in the history of the College)…with a playing record of P43 W35 D3 L5…PF 1201 PA 361…Tries for 171…Tries against 46…with the fixture card getting tougher each year…an 81% win-rate across 4 seasons.

(In comparison: 2005-2008: P53 W19 D1 L33…PF 830 PA 1179…Tries for 130…Tries against 181…a 36% win-rate across 4 seasons.)

…who would you pick in your team…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

Now to 2013 when:

“The result? An incredible win-rate of just over 86%, and a Rugby World Cup” (James Kerr, Daily Telegraph article ‘The All Blacks guide to being successful (off the field)’: 14th November 2013)

The 2011 World Champions…the All Blacks became the first International team to go undefeated in the professional era in a calendar year…P14 W14…PF 454…PA 239…Tries for 51…Tries against 19…against the best teams the world of rugby has to offer…”Better People Make Better All Blacks” is one of their mantras.

“The All Blacks select on character as well as talent, which means some of New Zealand’s most promising players never pull on the black jersey – considered dickheads, their inclusion would be detrimental to the ‘whanau’ (meaning ‘extended family’ in Maori)”

(James Kerr, Daily Telegraph article ‘The All Blacks guide to being successful (off the field)’: 14th November 2013)

James Kerr’s Telegraph article on ‘The All Blacks guide to being successful off the field’ can be found here:-


…who would you pick in your team…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

The Chiefs Super Rugby franchise won back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013 after so many years of being one of the also-ran New Zealand rugby franchises. The coaches empowered the ‘right’ players with the ‘right’ mindset…They created their own haka…they extended their logo and gave ‘their’ Chief legs…they out-reached to all parts of their community…

  • 1996-2011: Average position = 7th
  • 2012-2013: Average position = 1st

…who would you pick in your team…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

You can easily teach/coach a ‘better’ person to become a ‘better’ player with plenty of time, effort and commitment…BUT it is much harder…takes a lot more time and effort…drains a lot of energy to teach/coach/mentor the ‘best’ player to become a ‘better’ person…and sometimes that ‘best’ player does not become a ‘better’ person after all the time that you put into them…

Now a long way from ‘home’…after 12 months of intense rugby in the legs…and travelling to and fro all round the world to play…with 50,000 passionate fans against you…and 15 highly committed, physical players ready to smash you (with their own chance to make history and beat the All Blacks for the first time ever)…with 19 seconds left on the game clock…you are 62m from the Irish try line in your own half…and 17 points to 22 points down…an unbeaten record on the line…with a chance to make history in the professional era…you have a penalty awarded to you…needing a try to at least draw…with the conversion to create the victory…who would you have in your team…?

The link to the final try of the 2013 All Blacks season against Ireland can be viewed here:-


So who would you pick in your team…the ‘best’ player or the ‘better’ person…?

In summary:

  • The Crusaders Way…Talent AND Character;
  • “Better people make better All Blacks”;
  • You can coach/teach a better person to become a better player…BUT it’s much harder to teacher/coach a better player to become a better person.

Closing thoughts:

BETTER Performance Pyramid

Over the last 2 years I have created and developed the ‘BETTER Performance Pyramid’.

How do you create a BETTER Team…?

The first question to ask yourself is: What makes up a BETTER team…?

BETTER Players make a BETTER Team…as they are more skillful…have a BETTER understanding of the game…and train BETTER.

Then ask yourself this question: What makes BETTER Players…?

BETTER Athletes make BETTER Players…because they are fitter…faster…stronger…more powerful…more agile…BETTER conditioned…and BETTER prepared.

Then what makes BETTER Athletes…?

BETTER People…because they turn up at the right place…at the right time…are fully committed…and want to be the best that they can be…

  • So which factor is at the very CORE of producing a BETTER Team…?
  • The ‘best’ player OR the ‘better’ person…?

Wooden on Leadership

This concept was very much a part of arguably the most successful sports team EVER and of the teachings of arguably the most successful coach EVER: The UCLA College Basketball team under the tutelage of Coach John Wooden. The Bruins won 10 NCAA National Championships in 12 years from 1964 to 1975, including 7 straight from 1967 to 1973, of which 4 were perfect seasons in 1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973. including an 88 game winning streak.

NZ All Blacks

This concept is also at the very heart of the most successful professional sports team EVER: The New Zealand All Blacks: ”BETTER People make BETTER All Blacks”. The All Blacks have won 85% of matches they have ever played and they have a win rate of over 75% in all Test Matches. From 2004 to 2014 they have P145 W126 D2 L17 recording an 87% win rate, they have won the Tri-Nations/The Rugby Championship 8 out of 11 times and they have been the most consistently ranked No.1 team in the IRB/World Rugby Rankings having held the No.1 ranking for more than 80% of the time during this period, and they were crowned World Champions in 2011.

2 thoughts on “‘Talent v. Character’: The Crusaders Way…

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