Andrew salutes Ashton for 'rewriting the rules'

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The Independent Online

Rob Andrew said England had "rewritten the rules" by reaching the World Cup final despite enduring three years of upheaval and fitting in just 10 months of dedicated planning for this year's global tournament.

Andrew, England's elite rugby director, is charged with installing the necessary systems and structures for long-term success. The internationally-accepted approach has been that potential world champions need to build towards the World Cup for at least four years, if not longer. Sir Clive Woodward's preparations for the successful campaign in 2003, stretching back to his appointment in 1997, were seen as a blueprint.

New Zealand planned meticulously for this World Cup, withdrawing key players from half of the Super 14 in order to do conditioning work, and had been the best team on the planet for the last three years. In 2005 they beat the British and Irish Lions 3-0 and completed a Grand Slam tour of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They arrived in France as hot favourites.

English rugby, meanwhile, was in a state of disarray. When Andrew joined the Rugby Football Union a year ago his focus was trained on the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. The feeling at Twickenham was that time had run out on England's hopes of defending their title in France.

The RFU and the Guinness Premiership clubs were embroiled in political disputes, one of which was settled in the High Court. Woodward had quit as England coach because he was not guaranteed the access he wanted to elite players. Andy Robinson took over but the off-field problems were reflected on the pitch as England suffered eight defeats in nine matches.

But under Brian Ashton and a new captain, Phil Vickery, England have turned perceived wisdom on its head. New Zealand were beaten in the quarter-finals. England are in the final.

"They have certainly rewritten the rules in that regard," said Andrew. "Teams have looked at the World Cup as a four-year campaign. England had a great campaign going into 2003 and just got over the line. New Zealand had a great four-year campaign leading into this tournament and in the space of 80 minutes it has come off the rails. This has put some faith back into the English game."

Andrew hailed Ashton and his coaching team's work since taking over for the Six Nations Championship earlier this year.

"They have done a remarkable job given the circumstances, not just coming into this World Cup but through the Six Nations and the tour of South Africa with all the players that weren't available," he said, referring to two 50-point defeats suffered by a shadow squad in the Republic last summer. "They have done a huge amount behind the scenes. They have worked extremely hard and dealt with as much pressure as any England coaching team has ever been under.

"Following the [36-0 Pool A] defeat to South Africa, we effectively started the knockout stages in the last 32 against Samoa, then the last 16 against Tonga. Now we are down to the last two."

While the experienced heads in Ashton's squad have been vital, youngsters like Toby Flood, Dan Hipkiss and Matt Stevens have made a significant impact.

Andrew said: "Those of us who were close to the game, even before I was appointed, were pretty confident the English game wasn't in as poor health as the results were showing. Last autumn, when it was eight defeats out of nine, that tells its own story.

"But I don't think anybody has ever lost faith that the players are in the English game. We have said that all year and we have looked beyond this World Cup as well and there is an enormous amount of talent coming through. Some of it is here. There were young guys on the field at the end of the game yesterday.

"The talent is there and clearly this World Cup campaign has translated that talent into results."

England's run to the final, featuring a 12-10 victory over Australia in the last eight and Saturday's 14-9 win over France, has seen the nation gripped by rugby fever again.

The Twickenham shop has sold out of all World Cup gear and around 40,000 fans are estimated to have travelled to Paris for the semi-final. The television audience on ITV1 on Saturday night peaked at 12.4 million.