Woodward warns over repeating 'mistakes'

Former England coach criticises Andrew as RFU looks at Lancaster to be caretaker for Six Nations

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The Independent Online

As yet another front-line contender to fill the England coaching vacancy said "thanks, but no thanks" yesterday – Dean Ryan, an exceptional rugby thinker who achieved far more as boss of Gloucester than his ill-informed critics realised, said he was not suited to the No 1 role at Twickenham – and England Saxons head coach Stuart Lancaster was linked with a caretaker role for next year's Six Nations, the one man who knows what it is to guide the national team to the summit, Sir Clive Woodward, said the red-rose game had been reduced to a "laughing stock" and warned that the mistakes of the recent past were about to become the mistakes of the immediate future.

"Martin Johnson has gone but has anything else changed?" he asked. "I have a serious fear that all the mistakes made at Twickenham are about to be made again. One group of players have been robbed of their destiny. Are we going to let another be deprived of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by people who are just not qualified to make these decisions?

"In sporting terms, it is now life or death time for English rugby, but I have the sinking feeling that when the RFU reaches the end of a totally flawed process and announces the new coach, people will turn to each other and say: 'You must be joking'."

Lancaster, who took charge of the England side which faced the Barbarians in June and was formerly head coach at Leeds, has been with the Saxons for three years, a role he has combined with head of elite player development at the RFU. If he is installed as caretaker, along with surviving members of Johnson's staff, believed to include Graham Rowntree and Mike Ford, he would buy Twickenham some time before making a vital appointment.

Woodward did not offer a view on who should succeed Johnson on a permanent basis: the only decisive thing he has had to say on this rather significant matter is that he is not interested in doing the job himself, although it remains clear that he fancies a return to Twickenham at some point after next year's London Olympics, perhaps in a director of elite rugby-style role. He did, however, make short work of Rob Andrew, who beat the World Cup-winning coach to the position in 2006 and is currently English rugby's No 1 bogeyman.

"The process of revival, whatever anyone says, seems to be in the hands of Rob Andrew," Woodward wrote in a Sunday newspaper article. "He refused last week ... to take any responsibility for the past shambles. So why does he have the responsibility for choosing the new coach? The absolute key question for me is whether he has the skill set to appoint the new coach. Experience says he does not."

This outburst was followed by a line that may in time assume classic status. "Many clearly think he is not fit for purpose. That is not for me to comment on." Brilliant.

He appears to favour the appointment of an English head coach – a viewpoint mirrored by Sir Ian McGeechan yesterday – or one from elsewhere in the British Isles if no home-grown candidate is up to scratch. Of the major southern hemisphere contenders – Nick Mallett, Jake White and Eddie Jones among others – he said: "It is sometimes very challenging to repeat the art of coaching at a top level in another environment that has another culture."

McGeechan said: "They should ideally look for an English coach. And it is key they probably take a bit of time to look at the best options."