Sir Clive Woodward's silence speaks volumes on France coaching role

COMMENT: The World Cup winner might find French clubs hard to deal with, writes Chris Hewett

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The Independent Online

The silence is ear-shattering, so it must be true. Sir Clive Woodward, just about the last person to throw in his lot with rugby’s Trappist Order, has had ample opportunity to rubbish the idea that he is interested in succeeding Philippe Saint-André as the national coach of France after the forthcoming World Cup, yet there has not been the faintest hint of a denial. An English knight running the show in the republic across the water? The notion may be off the wall, but apparently not off the table.

Woodward’s chances of progressing from a long list of eight to a shortlist of one are considered remote. The revered Guy Novès of Toulouse is among the candidates, as are a couple of former France captains in Fabien Galthié and Raphaël Ibañez.

Whatever the former red-rose head cook and bottle-washer believes he can bring to the Test arena a decade after his last serious involvement, he starts the race a lap behind those blessed with a deeper understanding of their uniquely challenging, frequently mystifying union culture.

Not that he will be short of ideas on how to demystify it. Woodward was notably successful – indeed, brilliant – at professionalising England’s approach to international rugby, browbeating the double gin brigade at Twickenham into spending proper money on the shop window team.

He travelled to the 2003 World Cup in Australia with a side ranked No 1 in the sport, full of hard-bitten competitors more than capable of living up to that rating.

Yet he left the job after a furious falling-out over the ways and means of defending that title: an ambition he considered achievable only if he was given increased powers over the management of the elite players.

Unless he has changed radically, he would have the same argument with the French clubs, only a hundred times hotter. Would they take kindly to him condemning their fitness regimes as antediluvian and ordering them to start producing home-grown players rather than signing Fijian wings and eastern European props by the dozen?

Unlikely. Woodward has a record of taking on vested interests, but the interests in the land of Les Bleus are too deeply entrenched even for him.