That much was in keeping with the times; after all, the Rugby Football Union had been in no particular hurry to appoint Woodward. But the new coach's remark carried with it a subtext of considerable import. By declining to confirm Phil de Glanville in his current post of captain and naming no fewer than five candidates, each armed with strong leadership credentials, Woodward tacitly admitted that the honour was up for grabs.
"The captain will have to earn his place in the team, be in there on merit," he said. "We happen to be very strong in this area - we have Phil, who did an outstanding job last season, but also Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson, Jason Leonard and Tim Rodber. There's no mad panic. The first task is to pare down the squad of 77 into something more manageable."
Woodward cut an unruffled figure as he cheerfully discussed the demands of the forthcoming four-hander with the southern hemisphere superpowers and dealt cleverly with the verbal darts thrown yesterday by Geoff Cooke, one of his predecessors in the Twickenham hot seat. Cooke had described the 41-year-old former Lions centre as "volatile" and questioned his coaching background. "I'm looking forward to meeting him," said Woodward. "He'll have ample opportunity to tell me front-on where I'm going wrong."
John Mitchell, the former Waikato and All Black captain who proved so effective in coaching Sale last season, was confirmed as Woodward's assistant. He will work primarily with the forwards and his hard edge should prove invaluable.
"I've been on the phone to New Zealand, just to make sure I'm not being excommunicated," said the quietly authoritative Kiwi, who will continue to work through his five-year club contract. "The people back home have been very positive, actually.
"Obviously, it will be a very difficult situation when I'm involved in an England-New Zealand Test but at the end of the day I'm a professional. Funnily enough, the All Black management want to use the facilities at Sale while they're on tour here. We'll have to get someone down to the ground with a video."
As expected, Richard Hill of Gloucester will continue as England A coach with Andrew Harriman, a World Cup Sevens-winning captain in 1993, as manager. A second coach, almost certainly Rob Smith of Wasps, will be confirmed as soon as contractual negotiations are complete.Reuse content