Sir Clive Woodward: 'I would have done things differently to Johnson'

England rugby guru bemoans World Cup flops but relishes working with hopefuls at Youth Winter Games. Alan Hubbard meets Sir Clive Woodward

Having cold-shouldered Twickenham's unseemly scrum, Sir Clive Woodward looks forward to a winter of content, breathing some clean mountain air this week by taking charge of his first team since his glory days as England's rugby overlord, a role he has steadfastly declined to resume amid intense speculation about a return of the messiah.

Instead the architect of a World Cup victory England lamentably failed to emulate last year leads a squad of 24 young people to Innsbruck for the first Winter Youth Olympic Games.

He leaves tomorrow admitting his regret that rugby – "a sport that is in my bones" – is currently held in such opprobrium, the off-field cavorting in New Zealand compounded by Danny Care's recent peccadillo. Which is why, at a time when indiscipline is rife in sport, he is determined that Britain's Olympians, new and old, will be setting examples in what is the nation's most momentous sporting year.

Like their counterparts at the Summer Games in London, where Woodward, the British Olympic Association director of sport, will be deputy chef de mission, the youngsters in Innsbruck – aged 14 to 17 – are subject to a 15-point code of behaviour that includes refraining from swearing in public, obeying dress regulations, keeping noise to a minimum in the Games village at night and keeping bedrooms neat and tidy.

The disciplinary framework has been drawn up by Woodward in consultation with Olympic team leaders and includes stipulations about hygiene, time-keeping and politeness to other competitors. Any partying must be well away from the village and mobile phones have to be switched off at night.

Had Martin Johnson imposed such strictures they probably would have been ignored, though one suspects not so under the Woodward regime, when miscreants almost certainly would have been summarily dispatched to the nearest airport. I ask him if he would have done things differently. "Yes, I like to think I would," he says. "But it's easy to view things from the stands.

"I never had to experience the sort of things that went on there in my years in charge. We were very, very big on discipline, how we operated both on and off the field. It's not just the obvious areas of drinking and partying, it's all sorts of things.

"I would have sat down with them as individuals and then as a team, looked them straight in the eye and said, 'How do you want to be remembered?' I know how I want to be remembered, and that's for being on the back pages rather than the front pages.

"I can think of nothing worse than being remembered for doing something inappropriate that would affect the performance of a team-mate or another athlete. It will be with you for the rest of your life.

"With the Olympic sports we are going to make sure nothing like this happens. We want to be known for what occurs in the arena, not out of it."

He says he had no contact with Johnson – who he had said would be "mad" to take charge of England without top-level coaching experience – at the World Cup, other than a couple of good-luck messages. "Johno did it his own way, as every coach does. I am not saying the way I did it was right or wrong, but it would have been different. OK, I was successful, but it would be wrong to say that was the blueprint. But you are judged on results off the pitch as well as on it and you have to get that right. Sadly Martin didn't, and clearly became badly unstuck."

So is Stuart Lancaster a good choice to take temporary charge? "The situation they got into, he's the only choice. You wish him well. He's got a great opportunity and I just hope he picks the team that every England fan says, 'Wow, I am looking forward to watching this'. Look, it's been a rotten period for rugby, but I sit on the board of Leicester Tigers and I think the game as a whole is still going pretty well. England just had a bad year. But I think we will come through it."

Meanwhile, Woodward has more mountains to climb, starting next weekend in the Austrian Alps. The slopes are not an unfamiliar terrain. He is an experienced skier and his eldest son, Joe, is a qualified ski instructor. "I am passionate about winter sports and that's why I have been chosen to be in charge of the team. It's very challenging because traditionally we are not a winter sports nation, although we have won gold medals in indoor events like skating and curling. But we have some talented young athletes now who have based themselves abroad. This is why the Youth Games are important. I have spoken to these kids and the excitement is huge. It could be the trigger to get winter sports going a bit here."

The squad includes the 16-year-old freestyle skier Katie Summerhayes in the ski half-pipe, an event which makes its debut at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Bobsleigher Jazmin Sawyers has represented Britain at athletics, and cross-country skier Scott Dixon is the son of six-time Olympic biathlete Mike Dixon. Two ice hockey players, Lewis Hook and Katharine Gale, will participate in a unique individual event to test skills at the game.

While he maintains "I am a rugby man and always will be", Woodward has clearly caught the Olympic bug. "One of the reasons I enjoy doing this job is that I was extremely lucky in coaching England's rugby team for seven years and worked with what I call 'gold medal league' players like Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson. Had they been Olympians, they would have won gold medals. And the Chris Hoys, the Rebecca Adlingtons and the Vicky Pendletons, they are no different.

"That's what I find so fascinating. These are guys who sacrifice everything, put everything into it. With people who become champions in sport, whether it's football, rugby or the Olympics, there is a common theme, they are incredibly driven. They have the same DNA."

When we met on his 56th birthday last week I wondered what he might be doing on his 57th. Will he still be in the Olympic rings four years hence in Rio, when rugby makes it debut in a sevens event? Or will the tug-of-war with Twickers prove irresistible? His response is enigmatic. "The things that have been coming up now and again [a return to rugby] have not been led by me. I am enjoying this job and looking forward to the next Olympics, both in Sochi for the Winter Games and then in Rio once London is done and dusted. But nothing is set in stone. 2012 will be a time to re-evaluate.

"I am thrilled to be involved in something which is going to be colossal," he adds. "The nation hasn't realised yet what is going to hit it, how big this is going to be. Sport will go off the wall. If it works out successfully, as we believe, there will be an immense benefit in terms of legacy. I'll be proud to have been part of it. I have been very lucky in that I have never planned my career, things have just happened.

"I enjoy working for the BOA and I am totally committed to 2012. These Winter Games and the Summer Olympics are something I am really keen to do. After 2012, well, my career will go whichever way it wants to go."

Redknapp ideal for England job

Sir Clive Woodward has joined the call for Tottenham's Harry Redknapp to become the England football manager after Euro 2012, writes Alan Hubbard.

"I had a year with him at Southampton, which I loved," he says. "Harry was fantastic and I really hope he gets the England job, just as Brian Clough should have. He's an Englishman who's proved himself and from what I saw of him, he's ideally suited.

"Working with him was a priceless experience. I learned so much. The players respect him hugely. He has this incredible talent for spotting and grooming talent. I hope England do well in Euro 2012 with [Fabio] Capello but after that I'd like to see Harry in charge because he isa world-class coach."

The possibility of Woodward's own return to football, rather than rugby, after his Olympic mission has not been kicked into touch. He says he was on the brink of becoming the manager of a League club before accepting his Olympic role.

"I was approached by two clubs in the lower divisions before the offer from Colin Moynihan [the BOA's chairman]. Not a day goes by when I wonder what might have happened had I taken a job in football. I was ready to go but I chose the Olympics because they were in London, and it was the right thing to do."

Woodward admits he misses the "buzz" of the changing room and one suspects a renewed offer from football later this year might be favourably received.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve