Next LIVE rugby on TV
to be announced
Wed, 31 Jul 2013 14:30:05 +0000
  • Switch Edition
ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Tom Hamilton
Tom Hamilton | Columnist Index
Tom Hamilton was brought up on the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in June 2011 as assistant editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum
South Africa Rugby
The eyes behind back-to-back World Cup wins
Tom Hamilton
November 21, 2013
Dr. Sherylle Calder works with Akona Ndungane during her time with the Springboks © Getty Images
Enlarge

"This lady has the ability to make a massive difference. She is a sports scientist operating at the highest level." - Clive Woodward on the impact of Dr. Sherylle Calder.

Sir Clive Woodward is not one to mince his words. Praise does not come easily from the man who guided England to the 2003 World Cup. Nor does Woodward refrain from making controversial calls or adjustments to a sporting infrastructure. As he said in his autobiography, everything boils down to one thing, winning.

When he took on the England coaching job, he did not have an office or a coaching staff. By the time he left, England had a professional structure and rugby's biggest prize to their name. One of his more headline-grabbing calls in the run up to the 2003 World Cup was to call on the services of the world's leading visual awareness coach and former South Africa hockey international Dr. Sherylle Calder.

"I was working for the All Blacks at the time and they were playing in a Test in South Africa and Clive came to watch the test. I met Andy Robinson and Dave Alred then and when my contract ended he invited me to spend a week with the team." Calder told ESPN. "I came over on the Monday worked with the players and management and the next morning, he told me to fetch my bags and to come and work for England. When you work for the All Blacks, word gets around quickly in the rugby circles."

It proved to be a masterstroke; she is the only individual to have won back-to-back World Cups having also helped the Springboks to their title in 2007.

Breaking down exactly what Calder brings to a team is not easy, but she, in Woodward's words, is one of the "one-percenters", someone who can bring added strength to a team or organisation.

In plain terms, Calder is a fitness coach for the eyes. They, like any other muscle, need honing, teaching and strengthening. Her work improves eye-hand coordination, peripheral awareness and various other skills including also the brain processing skills and response and decision making. In rugby, spatial awareness is just as important as keeping your eye on the ball.

J.P Pietersen is put through his paces, Brisbane, Australia, July 11, 2006
JP Pietersen is put through his paces © Getty Images
Enlarge

"My science is based on seeing something and then processing that information accurately and as quickly as you can and then basing your decision on that," Calder explains. "I remember asking Jonny [Wilkinson] about it and he said he used to get the ball and then run, or kick, or pass or whatever the option was.

"After our training, he got the ball and had three decisions and he chose the best one. That's cutting edge and that's what it takes to win World Cups. It works on the same principles as a computer. It's trainable as well, you might be born with your brain, hands and eyes but you can train those skills."

Calder's work, as Woodward later said, was integral to helping England win that World Cup. The players were given tasks to do every day and a leader board was put up in the team room chronicling how much work they had done. Individuals such as Wilkinson have since paid tribute to everything she did and for Calder, it was a proud time to be involved with the set-up.

"I remember very clearly driving to the final on the team bus. We stayed in Manly so it was about an hour's drive to the stadium. I remember people shouting and booing at the bus. But I knew before we left England that by a combination of knowing what the other teams were doing and how good England were, they would win that World Cup. I was pretty confident about that final.

"It was an amazing team, it was a team in time with the combination of players and management and experience. I don't think there'll ever be another team like that again. I'm not so sure they get enough recognition for what they did."

When Woodward left England in 2004, so did Calder. The Springboks soon came calling and before her feet could touch the ground, she was involved in another project targeting the World Cup. She admits that winning the trophy for England made her "not the most popular person in South Africa" but that was soon forgotten when she helped Jake White's men to the title in 2007.

Working with Bryan Habana © Getty Images
Enlarge

Central to South Africa's push for that title was winger and tournament top try-scorer Bryan Habana. He has since labelled Calder "a vital cog in helping me back to my best" and she credits her work as part of the reason why he managed to score the semi-final winning interception try against Argentina. Her work saw his reaction time cut from 0.56 of a second to 0.18.

Calder admits Habana's words were "special" and has continued to help him after leaving South Africa in 2007 but she is loathed to single out one player for praise from her time with the two World Cup-winning sides.

"I'm proud of all of the people I worked with both for England and South Africa. Jonny was IRB Player of the Year and so was Bryan and they have given me a lot of credit for their performances. But I'd hate to exclude anyone; they all have special skills in their own area."

Her role in rugby did not end when she left the Boks as she helped Eddie Jones' Suntory Sungoliath in 2011 and 2012. She is now based in Cape Town's Sports Science Institute of South Africa and Stellenbosch Academy of Sport and her time is divided between working alongside Ernie Els and also other sports such as F1, cricket and a "big European soccer team who we aren't allowed to mention at the moment".

She is showing no signs of slowing down. "As I get on, I learn every day as work with different teams and get better at what I do but the principles remain the same of training players to improve their input skills, the processing of information and how they then respond."

Woodward called on her for the 2012 Olympics but Stuart Lancaster is yet to do the same. As England remember the 2003 World Cup-winning side this week, a decade since that achievement, although sometimes it is good to put previous triumphs to bed for the good of the future, you feel Calder could be an important 'one-percenter' for this current crop of players if called upon.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Golf

    Kuchar beats Donald to RBC Heritage crown

    Matt Kuchar clinched victory at the RBC Heritage by one shot over Luke Donald on 11-under to win the seventh PGA Tour title of his career

  • Snooker

    Murphy survives scare in final-frame thriller

    Shaun Murphy avoided a shock exit at the World Championship after edging out Jamie Cope 10-9 at the Crucible

  • Football

    Barcelona fight back to keep La Liga hopes alive

    Two goals in three minutes saw Barcelona come from behind to end a run of three straight defeats, but a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao could only paper over so many cracks at the Nou Camp

  • Football

    Villa owner to address sale reports

    Aston Villa's American owner Randy Lerner has said he will answer reports he is considering selling the Midlands club at the end of the season and has given manager Paul Lambert a vote of confidence after a troubled spell

  • Football

    Moyes defends performance after defeat

    David Moyes claimed Manchester United performed well in their 2-0 defeat at Everton and insisted he could not understand how his side lost the first half by two goals

Sponsored Links
Trade on Demo account $100,000! Get a FREE Pack
12 videos + 5 ebooks + $100000 demo + $2500 bonus!
Google Vs Facebook, 60 sec. knock out!
Make $170 in 60 seconds! Choose a champion, Become a Winner!
Make Huge Income from your Home 
Make real Profits - Sign in for a full training program for free