Driving the M4 from London to the west country on a midweek evening is rarely the most joyous of experiences. When the aim is to attend a disciplinary hearing which turns out to be a nod and a wink and a "sending-off deemed sufficient", it is a severe test of patience. "Two hours each way for the sake of 20 minutes," grumbled Trevor Woodman, the new London Wasps forwards coach. Welcome to the high life of the Guinness Premiership, Trev. Or should that be, welcome back.
For a man who once confessed to needing the likes of Phil Vickery to jog him awake in team meetings, this administrative stuff may take some getting used to. Out in the open air of Wasps' training ground last Wednesday, directing his troops through a drill designed to achieve rapid possession at the breakdown, Woodman looked more in his element. Until joining Wasps in the summer, he had spent three years living in Australia, involuntarily tagged as the forgotten man of England's 2003 World Cup- winning team.
Others were icons: Martin Johnson jacked in playing just when he fancied it and became the national manager; Matt Dawson swapped Twickenham for starring roles on television; Jonny Wilkinson carried on playing when his body allowed, and so on. Woodman was the first of the Sydney heroes to have the decision to retire taken out of his hands, by a persistent back injury a year after the final. Flummoxed and initially depressed by the abrupt end to a flourishing career, at the ridiculously young age for a loosehead prop of 28, Woodman eventually travelled Down Under and got into coaching, ironically enough, at Sydney University.
"Believe me, it feels like a long time since 2003," said Woodman, whose Cornish drawl has acquired the slightest of Aussie inflections. "A lot's happened between then and now. I'd had no planning for life after rugby, I took the decision to go with my fiancée to Australia and as soon as I was out there I started coaching. It became a full-time job but the rugby was semi-pro. Very different to what I was used to. It was a good learning curve and I did not really want to go straight into coaching in England, taking guys that I'd been in the trenches with. Then I'd just started working for the Australian Rugby Union when the call came from London Wasps. And I thought, there's no place like home."
So now he is back, and in Wasps' black, barking orders at training loudly and concisely; taking his turn in this session alongside Tony Hanks, Shaun Edwards and John McCloskey. In the aftermath of the former director of rugby Ian McGeechan's departure, this quartet have guided the club to two wins out of two in the Premiership, and they have the chance to go top of the table if they defeat Worcester in High Wycombe today.
Though a new face to the youngsters, Woodman, still only 33, has been reacquainted with a few peers, including his old mucker and fellow son of Cornwall, Vickery. They were props together for Gloucester before and after sharing in England's glory, glory day. But while Woodman succumbed to a debilitating nerve problem in his lower back – having moved to Sale in summer 2004, he rushed into making his debut and managed only four appearances – Vickery overcame three back operations to captain England to the 2007 World Cup final in France. Where once the pair had shared a flat and texted each other to check who was making that day's breakfast, Woodman was confined to jokey messages from 10,000 miles away. "Looked like you were near to tears on telly mate," he wrote in a text to Vickery after England's quarter-final defeat of Australia. "You've got to stop cos it's making me reach for the Kleenex."
That win in Marseille was built on a wondrously destructive scrummage, but instead of Woodman wearing the white No 1 jersey, it was Andrew Sheridan. "I suppose the best I can say is that I went out at the top," said Woodman. "I miss the adrenaline and the buzz of playing, of being somewhere like Paris with 80,000 Frenchmen whistling at you when the teams come out. At Sydney Uni the results still counted, but it was a relaxed atmosphere, like the rugby when I was growing up. At the same time I was overcoming a huge mental barrier, going from a professional athlete to being unable to stand up straight or go for a walk without pain. You feel your body's let you down and you don't know how to cope. It took a while, but the playing side of it dies away."
Woodman's last tour with England was in 2004, and it was Sir Clive Woodward's last too. It leaked out via Warren Gatland – then the head man at Wasps, before McGeechan succeeded him – that Woodward's squad were fed up with "meetings about meetings". The Woodman style appears to be based on brevity. "You pick up things as you go along and it's up to you how you put them into practice. There's a technical aspect behind it but you've got to think how much the players will absorb and how much will go over their heads. There's plenty of meetings I sat in as a player and 70 per cent went over my head. Throughout Wasps' pre-season we just wanted to work on the basics."
He has noticed already that Premiership players are leaner than when he was last here. He has not had to give "Vicks" too many instructions just yet, due to a post-Lions tour rest period and a niggle in Vickery's shoulder. "Vicks trained the other day and we kind of organised the session around him," said Woodman, with a smile. "He still wants to play at the top, so he wants to be challenged and he will challenge us as coaches. That's what I want. I have a reputation on what I've done as a player. That can only really get tarnished if I don't progress on my career path equally as well if not better. That's my challenge and I'm not keen on failing."
Among Wasps' other forward personnel, James Haskell, Tom Palmer, Raphaël Ibañez, Pat Barnard and Michael Holford moved on in the summer; while internationals Vickery, Tom Rees and Simon Shaw have been absent from the opening defeats of Harlequins and Bath. It has been left to Serge Betsen, in his second season, Dan Ward-Smith, in his first, and the longer-serving Joe Worsley, Rob Webber, George Skivington and Richard Birkett to carry the fight.
The statistics of possession retained, and turned into tries, are looking good and though these are early days, it is an improvement on last year's seventh place in the Premiership, and the failure to qualify for the Heineken Cup or get beyond the pool in Europe and the Anglo-Welsh Cup. A backline including Joe Simpson, Danny Cipriani, Paul Sackey, Tom Varndell and David Lemi will surely prosper with quick ball, though Lemi is out injured for the next six weeks. "There's been changes at the club at board level, the director of rugby has changed, and so have the players," said Woodman. "It's up to all of us to set our own marker down. To still have the values and traditions of what Wasps have been about, but to make our own statement. Those who want to do that will be successful at Wasps; others, if they don't want to succeed, won't last."
As for that disciplinary hearing, it proved to be a test of Woodman's diplomacy. Wasps prop Tim Payne was shown two yellow cards adding up to a red at Bath last weekend, hence the Tuesday trip to Bristol to face the RFU beak. Woodman was unhappy to see Payne sent off for a scrum collapse when Wasps appeared to be going forward and when the touch judge appeared more concerned with backs going offside. But with no ban for Payne, and Wasps on the winning side, they let sleeping dogs lie. "Put it this way," said Woodman, with a former front-rower's gift for dry wit, "we're paying close attention to where our backs stand at scrums from now on."
England's 2003 World Cup final team: Where are they now?
15 Josh Lewsey:
Overlooked by both Martin Johnson's England and the Lions, retired from playing this year. Plans to climb Everest with an old army pal in 2010.
14 Jason Robinson:
Hung up his boots in 2008 to spend more time with this family. Became "ambassador" for rugby sponsors HSBC and is now head coach at Sale Sharks.
13 Will Greenwood:
Finished playing in 2006. Now a full-time media man with a national newspaper column and enthusiastic analytical work for Sky and ITV.
12 Mike Tindall:
Still playing in the centre for Gloucester and England, and still squiring Zara Phillips (pictured right) – a romance which started on the night of the 2003 final.
11 Ben Cohen:
Boarded the gravy train to France, playing for Brive. Signed for Sale Sharks this season.
10 Jonny Wilkinson:
Injury and illness afflicted the drop-goal hero of 2003 who has added 18 England caps when it might have been 50. Fit again and playing in France with Toulon, is favourite to be England fly-half this autumn.
9 Matt Dawson:
Ceased playing in 2006, launching TV career on A Question of Sport (pictured left), Celebrity Masterchef and Strictly Come Dancing. Also a BBC radio pundit and presenter.
1 Trevor Woodman:
Moved to Sale from Gloucester in 2004, but played only four matches due to injury and retired aged 28. Lived and coached in Australia until joining Wasps as forwards coach this summer.
2 Steve Thompson:
Retired with a neck injury in early 2007 and weight ballooned to 138kg. Doctors gave him the all-clear to play again. He did so with Brive and was capped again by England last May.
3 Phil Vickery:
Captained England to the 2007 World Cup final. Toured with the Lions this summer and still props for Wasps.
4 Martin Johnson, captain:
Retired from England after 2003 World Cup and from Leicester in 2005. Boosted bank balance on the dinner circuit until appointment as England team manager in April 2008 with a contract to 2011.
5 Ben Kay:
One of four players to have started the 2003 and 2007 World Cup finals, with Robinson, Wilkinson and Vickery. Still playing for Leicester Tigers.
6 Richard Hill:
Finished playing career on one knee in 2008, helping Saracens to a Heineken Cup semi-final. Now on the club's commercial team and also represents the game at large on the RFU Council.
7 Neil Back:
Retired from playing in 2005. Now head coach at Leeds, leading them to promotion to this season's Premiership.
8 Lawrence Dallaglio:
Retired from, returned to, then retired from England again. Signed off his playing career with win for Wasps in the 2008 Premiership final. Now on club's board wooing sponsors and seeking a new stadium.
Has several business interests and also serves on the RFU Council.
"Mad Dog" is still playing as a flanker for Leicester and England.
Attack coach at London Irish and, just turned 38, still available to play.
Recently left Gloucester for Biarritz. Summer wedding to Kate Davies featured on cover of Hello! magazine, possibly due to Tindall and Phillips attending.Reuse content