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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK


Gambler Woodward running out of dice

Woodward: A gambler or a visionary?

When Clive Woodward was appointed England's first full-time coach two years ago it was seen as a high-risk investment - the salary is around £150,000 - which might bring rich return but which might also end in disaster.

It came at a time when England could be reasonably content with their international record - Woodward's successor Jack Rowell was not exactly a failure with one Grand Slam, three Triple Crowns and one World Cup semi-final to his credit.

But Woodward, and thankfully at least some of the Rugby Football Union, sensed the speed of change in the southern hemisphere and knew England needed to haul themselves up another level to compete on the global stage.

Some questioned Woodward's volatility and limited coaching track record.


[ image: Rowell: RFU said his business interests meant he couldn't do the job full-time]
Rowell: RFU said his business interests meant he couldn't do the job full-time
He won promotion for London Irish in his two-season tenure there but quit (twice) on points of principle and had only spent a couple of months as part-time coach at Bath before he was appointed to the top job.

The RFU took a month to decide who should succeed Rowell, who resigned rather than wait to see his contract not renewed because of his outside business interests.

Kiwi Graham Henry was one of those clumsily approached but in the end the RFU decided Woodward's outspokeness and uncompromising nature was a risk worth taking for the prize he was offering.

For unlike many followers of English rugby, he perceived the famous 1991 World Cup final performance as failure.


[ image: Will Carling collects his World Cup losers medal after defeat to Australia in 1991]
Will Carling collects his World Cup losers medal after defeat to Australia in 1991
Woodward - whose impressive international career included 21 caps and a Lions tour - believed a tactically aware England could and should have won the sport's greatest trophy.

An advocate of 15-man rugby in which players are chosen for their footballing skill and only then are positions allocated, Woodward was in pursuit of the so-called 'total rugby' until then cornered by the All-blacks and Sprinboks.

While the traditionally conservative RFU clearly knew about Woodward's gambling streak before he was appointed, they may have been confident he would choose not continue to his high-risk strategies with the stakes so high.

But Woodward was true to his nature and within two months of his appointment named an England side with five new caps and a new captain.


[ image: Woodward: Scored a glorious try in England's 1980 Grand Slam epic againt Scotland]
Woodward: Scored a glorious try in England's 1980 Grand Slam epic againt Scotland
It is a testament to his man-management skill that three of them, Matt Perry, David Rees and Will Greenwood are in England's World Cup squad.

Perry's progress as much as any other highlights the radical new approach fostered by Woodward.

Under Rowell England became a team of powerful forwards who relied on the full-back to kick to touch and wait for the opposition to make a mistake.

Woodward refused to settle for this negative, if productive, style and instead pin-pointed the full-back, the man with most space to lauch an attack, and bestowed on him the gift of freedom.


[ image: It's pay-back time for former skipper Dallaglio]
It's pay-back time for former skipper Dallaglio
Perry is just one of the players who Woodward coached at Under 21 level in the months before he took the senior post and he has nurtured his young prospects closely. Another was Joe Worsley, was also named in the final squad.

For while Woodward is a ruthless, radical kind of manager who refuses to pay lip-service to past deeds and will publically humilate players who he does not feel are completely committed to the white shirt - he is also fiercely loyal to those who earn it.

He recalled veteran Victor Ubogu to October's line-up when the 34-year-old, believing he was facing the chop, announced his retirement.

It was Woodward's decision back in 1997 to hand Lawrence Dallaglio the skippers' armband - at the time Martin Johnson and Ben Clarke were just as strong candidates.


[ image: Woodward (right), in his playing days, supports John Carleton]
Woodward (right), in his playing days, supports John Carleton
And no-one stood more resolutely behind the Wasps flanker when he resigned the captaincy over allegations of drug-taking.

But Woodward is far from just a blood and guts side-line thunderer who relies on the team-spirit he has been so careful to engender on the commando courses of Devon during Dallaglio's absence.

He is a modernist - he sends his team-selections via e-mail; a thinker who out-manoevred his opponents after last year's disastrous tour to the southern hemisphere.

Wembley sickener

Woodward came back to preside over an impressive Five Nations campaign - but the title went to Scotland after losing to Wales through a last-minute try.

But the prize he promised was the World Cup and if England fail to win his future could be in doubt - he has a year of his contract left to run.

Whatever the result, his England has taken vast strides which will see them able compete with the best in the next century.



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