Rugby Union: Woodward finally given the reins for England

Clive Woodward's appointment as England's new rugby coach finally won official approval yesterday. Chris Hewett sees the curtain come down on a long-running sporting farce
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The Independent Online
More leaks than a John le Carre novel, more false starts than an Olympic 100 metre final. The bizarre kerfuffle surrounding the most important job in English rugby is over at last and, when the legion of players summoned to today's opening training session of the season converge on Bisham Abbey, they will find Clive Woodward waiting to welcome them.

The worst-kept secret in top-level sport finally made it into the public domain yesterday afternoon when the Rugby Football Union confirmed the former Leicester, England and Lions centre as its first full-time coach on a salary thought to be in the region of pounds 150,000 a year. Roger Uttley will, as expected, manage the side. Both men have signed three-year contracts taking them up to and beyond the 1999 World Cup.

Having failed to lure Graham Henry, the successful Auckland coach, and Ian McGeechan, the mastermind of the Lions' triumph over the Springboks during the summer, the RFU turned to Woodward, only to find itself bogged down in protracted negotiations with his club, Bath. The contractual obstacles played havoc with the RFU's timescale - it had planned to finalise its appointments three weeks ago - and it was only on Monday night that the last lingering issues were solved.

Woodward, who had initially insisted on honouring his Bath deal, said yesterday: "The chance of coaching England was one I just couldn't turn down. The support I've had from Bath has been superb." But the West Country club made it clear that they would have preferred to keep their man. "We're extremely disappointed to lose Clive's services," said Tony Swift, the chief executive. "We would not have released him for any other role."

Bath have been compensated for their inconvenience - the figure remains confidential but is thought to be in excess of pounds 100,000. However, similar financial considerations have prevented the RFU naming Woodward's colleagues on the new coaching panel. John Mitchell of Sale and Rob Smith of Wasps remain favourites.

The current England captain, Phil de Glanville, was quick to endorse the appointment of the man who he admired at Bath.

"We are all delighted for Clive at Bath. We wish him well. He inherits an England rugby squad that is in a state of health, but there is a need to progress and it is up to Clive and his team to take things further and keep the success going.

"He was great for us in his brief term at Bath. We needed an outside point of view and Clive had forthright opinions. He is a deep thinker with novel ideas, but nothing is cast in stone. He is prepared to listen and has a stimulating view about playing the game and the England squad need to be receptive and positive.

"As a schoolboy I saw him play for England at centre - the position I have occupied - and he was tremendously skilful"

Woodward's former Leicester and England centre partner Paul Dodge described the new national coach as "adventurous". "He is certainly one of the more adventurous coaches around," Dodge said. "But we'll have to see how Clive copes at international level. It is certainly a big step up for him, and it will be interesting to see what emerges in terms of team selection and England's playing style. He's always believed in the 15-man game. Clive's record certainly speaks for itself."

Meanwhile, the directors of the Heineken Cup will meet in emergency session later today to discuss the implications of Sunday night's bar-room brawl between players from Brive and Pontypridd. Officials of both clubs have been told to file reports on the incident, which put three Frenchmen in hospital and three Welshmen before a prosecuting magistrate.

Brive's official request to have Saturday's match with Bath postponed will also be discussed. Bath have reacted angrily and insisted that the fixture go ahead as scheduled.

The ruthless Woodward way, page 31