England confirm Robinson as man to defend World Cup

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The Independent Online

Andy Robinson is not known for his failure rate on the important occasion - he has never been on the losing side in a final, either as a player or a coach - and there was no change in the habit of a lifetime when he made his pitch for the England coaching job before a Rugby Football Union selection panel at Twickenham on Thursday. Yesterday, the RFU appointed the former Bath flanker on a contract taking him through to the 2007 World Cup and beyond, a clear indication that he said the right things in the right order during his presentation.

Andy Robinson is not known for his failure rate on the important occasion - he has never been on the losing side in a final, either as a player or a coach - and there was no change in the habit of a lifetime when he made his pitch for the England coaching job before a Rugby Football Union selection panel at Twickenham on Thursday. Yesterday, the RFU appointed the former Bath flanker on a contract taking him through to the 2007 World Cup and beyond, a clear indication that he said the right things in the right order during his presentation.

The news was warmly welcomed by Robinson's predecessor, Sir Clive Woodward, and by the recently-annointed England captain, Jonny Wilkinson. "I'm very, very pleased for Andy," said Woodward, who is likely to include Robinson among his support staff for the forthcoming British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand when he makes a formal announcement next week. "He deserves it, and he'll have my full support from the outside. It's a difficult job, but I'm sure they've chosen the right guy." Wilkinson, meanwhile, described Robinson as "an outstanding coach and an incredible leader who brings so much experience and commitment to the job".

Woodward was popularly thought to be on an annual salary of around £200,000 when he vacated the England job in controversial circumstances last month, and it is highly unlikely that Robinson settled for much less. Given the triple whammy now confronting him - massive expectation on England as reigning world champions, catastrophic losses in personnel and a 2004-05 international fixture list that does him precious few favours - it will hardly be a case of money for old rope. Thanks to the red-rose heroics in Australia a year ago, this has become one of the most pressurised jobs in world sport.

Robinson begins his tenure next month with a Twickenham Test against a semi-professional Canada team, and despite the break-up of the World Cup-winning side it will be surprising indeed if he does not emerge with a 50-point victory to his name. The fun is likely to end there, however. A rejuvenated South Africa and a highly motivated Australia will be the next visitors, and England must then travel to Dublin and Cardiff in the 2005 Six Nations Championship.

Importantly, the 40-year-old West Countryman secured the full support of the national back-room staff - Phil Larder, Dave Alred, Joe Lydon and the rest - long before he won the unanimous support of the RFU panel. According to England insiders, he has already established a sense of common purpose, just as he did in leading Bath to a famous Heineken Cup triumph in 1998.

Last night, Robinson was characteristically bullish about the task ahead. "I imagine every rugby coach in England aspires to do this job one day, and I feel honoured to have the opportunity," he said. "Clive set a standard for us all to follow. His successful record at the helm, culminating in us winning the World Cup last year, was unique and very special. It was my privilege to be a part of that achievement as his assistant coach. My challenge now is the next era, to ensure the World Cup remains at Twickenham in 2007."

A week ago, Robinson made another pledge - to himself, as much as anyone. "Over and above everything, I intend to enjoy my time with England," he said. A celebrated misery-guts even in victory, it will be a momentous breakthrough for all concerned if he is spotted with a smile on his face after the meeting with the Springboks in five weeks' time.

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