Chris Hewett in Sydney: Woodward prepares to bring in next generation

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The Independent Online

Forget the hangover for a second. The way Lawrence Dallaglio is feeling right now, France 2007 is no mere possibility; it is a stone-cold, knock-'em-dead certainty. The way the administrators of Rugby World Cup Ltd are feeling, the next tournament cannot fail to move the sport another mile along the line towards global stature and the billions that go with it. Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of the union code: more broadcasters, more sponsors, more agents, more supporters. Dallaglio has been slaving away at this tough old game for years, and even he wants a larger slice.

But it is easy to believe the best of everything when you have been giving it large in the bars of Sydney for 36 hours, or you have just witnessed a great sporting nation deliver a great competition that ran so ridiculously smoothly and was so perfectly judged - from the pre-match ceremonials to the technological innovations - that it is now impossible to imagine why all sporting events are not managed the same way. The facts of the matter are that Anno Domini exists, and that rugby's slate has not been wiped clean by the glory and grandeur of the last seven weeks.

Dallaglio will not get to the 2007 tournament. Nor will Martin Johnson, Neil Back, Richard Hill, Matthew Dawson, Will Greenwood or, in all likelihood, Jason Robinson. If the likes of Greenwood and Robinson battle on, it will be towards the Lions' tour of New Zealand in 2005 - a rugby challenge to match the winning of this World Cup. But France, 47 months from now? That is a long road for mid-twentysomethings, let alone those who have bidden farewell to their roaring decade.

Age does not matter to Clive Woodward, of course. He has signed up for four more years (pray God he does not mutate into a sporting Mrs Thatcher) and could have signed for 40 after coaxing and cajoling this fine team of his all the way to the summit. His rich mix of wild enthusiasms - rugby, England, success - is hardened by a streak of purest pragmatism, and he will develop another side based around the younger elements of this one but enriched by a shock of new talent, much of which he has already fast-tracked into his élite squad.

Charlie Hodgson, the visionary little midfield play-maker from Sale, would have been at this tournament but for injury, and will certainly demand a place at the next one. James Simpson-Daniel, probably the most exciting outside back to emerge from the Gloucester club in four decades, should have been here - why did Woodward choose Dan Luger ahead of him? - and will be there, in France. Woodward could name one of the quickest back-row combinations in the world right now: James Forrester, Lewis Moody and Chris Jones, natural athletes to a man.

As things stand, only the French and the New Zealanders can fish for personnel in reservoirs of similar depth and quality. The Wallabies were heartbroken in defeat on Saturday - "I guess there will be a time to reflect but at the moment, I just don't feel like living," Justin Harrison, their lock forward, said - but their real problems are ahead of them. George Gregan, their captain, is expected to retire next summer; Wendell Sailor may return to rugby league; another half-dozen of those involved at the weekend will disappear well before 2007. The former champions have some high-class replacements in the current mix, but playing numbers in Australia are low. If the Matt Giteaus and Al Baxters fail to come through as expected, life could get difficult.

It could get difficult for the International Rugby Board, too. When the euphoria surrounding this brilliantly produced showpiece has finally evaporated, they will be left contemplating a global game on the one hand, and a shrinking world on the other. The Pacific Islands are still wonderfully talented, and still desperately impoverished; South American rugby is vibrant, but so destitute that every player of quality will find his way to Europe; the United States took a step forward, as did Japan, but the sporting populations of these countries demand tangible success as the price of their interest. Canada? Committed, but amateur. Eastern Europe? A financial wasteland.

The IRB will talk about radically restructuring the touring programme, to free up more money for those most in need of it. Whether or not that programme is ever sanctioned is a moot point, for it is not in the interests of New Zealand, in particular, to strengthen the hands of their island neighbours. The Samoans, who performed so spectacularly here, were not joking when they warned that they might not make the 2007 competition. John Boe, their wise and erudite coach, was not pulling anyone's leg when he questioned the long-term motives of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. And Boe is a New Zealander.

Another problem: Australia's success in spreading rugby into non-rugby areas of this vast country - in pulling nearly two million spectators through the gates of a dozen supremely equipped stadia, in generating audiences of 30,000-plus for matches involving the Georgias and Uruguays and Romanias - underlines how few countries could conceivably envisage, plan and deliver a sporting Rolling Thunder Review on a similar scale. "44 days, 48 matches, 20 teams, one winner" blared the headline in one of the Sydney newspapers yesterday. Wrong. There were two winners: the England team, and the Australian sporting nation.

New Zealand could not reproduce this. It does not have the stadia, for a start, let alone the hotels or the weather. Japan probably could, but the costs would be astronomical for a fledgling professional sport. The United States? No interest. The Celtic nations? No money. That leaves us with France, England and South Africa - and already, the IRB has agreed to hand over great bleeding chunks of the French tournament to Wales, Ireland and Scotland for reasons of political expediency. What a joke.

Rugby will have to handle itself, and its new grip on the imagination of the wider sporting public, extremely carefully over the next four years. "We understand the dangers of our increased profile," agreed Francis Baron, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union. "The greatest thing about rugby union is its ethos. The fact that gold shirts and white shirts were able to intermingle so freely at the final, without the slightest hint of a problem, is one of the principle reasons behind our commercial success. We will not permit a situation in which we see stadia divided and supporters segregated. There are things to improve in this game, but there are also things to protect."

That is the challenge. Rugby has every right to feel pleased with itself, and another joyous celebration in 2007 - a celebration the French are well capable of staging, left to their own glorious devices - will establish the union game once and for all as the world's second sport. But as Clive Woodward says, the time to be hyper-critical is when you are winning. And if the words are Woodward's, they must be right.

Shape of England in 2007?

15 Iain Balshaw (Bath)
14 James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester)
13 Mike Tindall (Bath)
12 Charlie Hodgson (Sale)
11 Ben Cohen (Northampton)
10 Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle, capt)
9 Martyn Wood (Bath)
1 Trevor Woodman (Gloucester)
2 Steve Thompson (Northampton)
3 Phil Vickery (Gloucester)
4 Steve Borthwick (Bath)
5 Ben Kay (Leicester)
6 James Forrester (Gloucester)
7 Lewis Moody (Leicester)
8 Chris Jones (Sale)
16 Matt Stevens (Bath) 17 David Flatman (Bath) 18 Louis Deacon (Leicester) 19 Joe Worsley (Wasps) 20 Clive Stuart-Smith (Leeds) 21 Stuart Abbott (Wasps) 22 Marcel Garvey (Gloucester)

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