Peter Bills: Appointing Clive Woodward is a step backwards

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The Independent Online

I always thought the RFU would appoint Clive Woodward to become their new elite performance director.

The fact that I wrote a column weeks ago saying that it was time they moved on, consigned Woodward to the past and embraced the future, never altered my deep-seated suspicion that when push came to shove they’d choose Woodward.

The reason is simple. This is still an organisation that remains steeped in the past, not the future. It continues to view what has gone before with greater relish, a kind of longing if you like, rather than choosing a tougher course by getting out and confronting the future.

‘Carpe Diem’ would not be the maxim by which the RFU runs its affairs. Down at Twickenham, where the red wine and port is consumed slowly and with much praise, time runs more tardily.

You might say, given the RFU’s blustering denial of weekend reports that the job is Woodward’s when he wants it, that you pays your money and takes your choice. You either believe the reports or the RFU's denial. Personally, I’ll take the reports.

There has been too much blustering to my way of thinking to suggest anything other than someone has prematurely hit a nail on a very uncomfortable head. In other words, ‘Twickers’ wanted to conduct the whole drawn out saga on its own ponderous terms. Someone, and no names mentioned, has presumably talked to someone else and Twickenham’s master plan has been blown out of the water. Or so it would seem.

If the RFU subsequently talks to Woodward and then rejects his candidature, they have my genuine apologies. Obviously, I have misjudged them all along and they are one of the most forward-thinking, dynamic sporting organisations you could discover anywhere in the world, not just in the UK.

But I’d be surprised, very surprised. These are gentlemen who like to take life (and business) at their own measured pace. When you walk into some of the abodes they inhabit, you suspect that Carruthers over there in the corner still hasn’t been told that Singapore has fallen.

A dynamic business organisation living in the modern world would have readily applauded Woodward’s role in England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup win....and consigned it to history. They would have looked ahead, not backwards for a new man at the helm.

In life, in business and in sport, it is tomorrow that matters....not yesterday. But the RFU have, for too many years, lived in the past. There, amid the melancholy and sentimentality, they feel safer, somehow more comfortable. No draughts of cold air blasting in through a door opened at an untimely moment by some rank outsider. Here, in the snug bar, all is comfort and cosiness.

And, by the way, England are by no means the only national rugby union body to live under such terms.

But unfortunately, the modern world moves on at breakneck speed. It is challenging, tough, dynamic and often deadly. Constantly going back to the past is no panacea whatsoever for a bright, successful future.

If Twickenham was so convinced that Woodward was the answer to their prayers, why did they let him walk out of the door in the first place? But having done so, it strikes me as faintly ridiculous to bring him back after seven long years that, in terms of the pace at which this game is going forward, represents an eternity. After all, he hasn’t worked with anyone at any serious level in the sport in all that time.

What next? Will New Zealand bring back Laurie Mains or John Hart once Graham Henry has stepped down? Will South Africa re-recruit Nick Mallett, who had success as the Springboks coach years and years ago?

Manchester United don’t re-engage Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because they once scored a bucket load of goals for them. And Arsenal aren’t about to re-appoint George Graham as manager because they won a load of trophies under him.

In most sports, people move on but some rugby unions, in a strange way, are apparently unable to do this. They prefer to live in the past and keep going back to old friends.

A curious business.