Rugby Union: England `at peak' to take on world

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CLIVE WOODWARD, the England coach, yesterday thrust aside his disappointment at the defeat by Wales, which cost his side a Grand Slam and the Five Nations title, and looked ahead to the World Cup. "England are in good shape," he said. "I believe we are right up there now with the top sides in the world. And I have no doubt that England will be at their peak for the World Cup."

And he predicted the southern hemisphere sides would be in for a tough challenge. "Everyone in the Five Nations has got faster, fitter and more powerful," Woodward said. "We have all moved forward. The southern hemisphere teams are in for a hell of a World Cup. There is no way they are coming here for an easy ride."

The only blight on Woodward's autumnal vision is England's discipline. "We won't win the big prize unless we become a disciplined team," he said. "At the moment we seem to fluctuate. Against Ireland we conceded 20 penalties, against France only nine or 10, against Wales we were back to 20. And to have conceded nine of those in our own half against a side with a goal- kicker of Neil Jenkins' stature was, for me, probably the most disappointing aspect of our entire Five Nations campaign. But I think it is impossible to coach a side not give away penalties. We just have to become more streetwise."

Graham Henry, who plotted England's downfall at the weekend, focused on the summer tour of Argentina that precedes the World Cup. "It will be a huge challenge," he said. "Argentina have beaten the best in the world on home soil. It is a very good tour for us to have and a good rehearsal before the World Cup."

North of the border, Scotland were presented with the Five Nations Trophy at Murrayfield and their coach, Jim Telfer, who steps down after the World Cup, said: "This is certainly the best [Scotland] team I have coached. A lot of these players have their best years ahead of them."

Five Nations verdict, page 20