Risky business if Sir Clive opts to play the prodigal

Siren voices tempt knight to ride to his country's rescue - but he will be wary of a new world without much of what he laboured so hard to put in place
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Sitting in front of a huge portrait of the England squad celebrating their World Cup triumph, the Red Rose hierarchy unveiled their blueprint, so revolutionary it could be a redprint, for holding on to the Webb Ellis Cup. No meeting at Twickenham had been so eagerly awaited since Sir Clive Woodward raised two fingers, a sign which had nothing to do with victory, and left for a new life with Southampton FC.

By lambasting virtually everybody in sight, including Francis Baron, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, who was not best pleased, the clubs, the Premiership, the owners and the coaches, Woodward appeared to have burnt his boat when he set sail for the south coast. On Thursday, however, the RFU launched a liferaft. When it was announced they were searching for an élite rugby director who would be required to fulfil almost every role imaginable except driving the team bus, the first name that sprang to most minds was, of course, Woodward's.

"We are not ruling anybody in or anybody out," said Baron who at a series of 7am meetings had shredded half the coaching staff. The new supremo, who would be the highest-paid figure in the history of professional rugby, will be a heavyweight thoroughbred, headhunted throughout the globe if necessary. They are looking for somebody with an "S" emblazoned on their chest and "a proven track record to take us back to where we were". Where on earth this leaves Andy Robinson, who still has the title of head coach but nothing more, remains to be seen.

Baron said that ideally the saviour would be English first, British second, although Martyn Thomas, chairman of the management board, which passed every one of 28 recommendations in the review, said: "I don't care if a Zulu got it as long as he was the right man for the job." Even so, it is understood that Thomas is very much a Woodward supporter.

The more Baron spoke about the job description the more Woodward's profile came into focus. He clearly ticks most of the boxes and a sweeping role which would give him overall control of almost every facet of the game in England would appear to suit him down to the ground. Furthermore, Woodward's career at Southampton has been more Coca-Cola than champagne and his position there, what with talk of takeovers, is by no means secure.

Having ruled out any high flier who does not know the difference between a rugby ball and an Easter egg, England are not left with that many candidates. Eddie Jones, who took Australia to the World Cup final in Sydney but then lost his job, has the personality and the experience but says he would not apply. That is not the same as saying he would not like the job.

Then there's Nick Mallett, Oxford educated, who had a terrific record with South Africa, and Ian McGeechan, who did not have a great time with Scotland but whose achievements with the Lions are exemplary. On a similar note, how about Martin Johnson, the only England captain to lift the World Cup and as iconic a figure as Sir Clive? The prospect of Johnson striding back into Twickenham would give every Red Rose follower a spring in his step but he is a greenhorn at management and coaching.

However, the dream return ticket of Woodward is not half as romantic as it may seem. One of Superman's roles would be to negotiate with the clubs, a prospect akin to Robin Hood playing in the same darts team as the Sheriff of Nottingham. This task, which is crucial to England's wellbeing, requires the tact of a diplomat and the patience of a saint. Woodward is not renowned for either.

The review has dismantled much of what Sir Clive had put in place. The result, according to Baron, is a "leaner and meaner" machine, but the loss of the coaches Phil Larder and Dave Alred and the performance director Chris Spice means an exodus of Woodward's men. Even Pennyhill Park, the five-star establishment in Bagshot, has not escaped the axe as the RFU look for less expensive lodgings. Pennyhill, where England trained and stayed, was Woodward's brainchild and he refined it to suit the squad's needs. Would he want to come back to a Holiday Inn? Would he want to come back to a coaching staff that had already been picked?

The winning of the World Cup in Australia in 2003 was the best of times for England but it was not long before it led to the worst of times. When Woodward made his dramatic exit two years ago he said he was dismayed there had been no improvement in access to players for Test duty. Before the recent defeat to Ireland, Larder complained he had only 40 minutes with the players. Woodward's resignation led to the promotion of his sidekick Robinson and also Joe Lydon as backs coach and England's post-World Cup record became so scratched it was unplayable: played 25, won 12, lost 13. In the Six Nations, in which they finished fourth in the last two seasons, it was played 15, won seven, lost eight. In the same period, against the major countries, it was played 19, won six, lost 13. yet the tries for and against were the same, 38, which suggests a lapse in goalkicking.

An analysis of the results, which cost England lost revenue of £1m this season, led to the axing of Alred, the kicking coach (in the absence of Jonny Wilkinson the strike rate fell), and Larder the defence coach (too many tries conceded). Lydon, the backs coach, has also gone (not enough tries scored) but at least he is still on the RFU payroll, moving to the National Academy. Robinson did not want them to leave but, given his precarious position, he had no choice. He was lucky to survive. His hands were on the wheel but everybody else on the bridge got the blame when the RFU Compass Rose lost its bearings.

The unluckiest loser was Spice, who did not go quietly. "For some time I've believed a culture change was required in the England senior team and it could only happen through a change in leadership. The review has thrown up a lot of evidence to support that but it will not be acted upon." Spice added that all the teams under his direction had been performing well, for example the England sevens and the Under-21 team.

The relationship between Spice and Robinson was one of the personality clashes referred to by Baron and there were other inter-department rivalries which, he says, have been eradicated.

Instead of reporting to Baron, Robinson will now be answerable to the new head honcho, who will have a say in selection. Robinson will be above three new coaches - attack, defence and forwards - and the posts will be advertised, although the main contenders have been earmarked. They will need to be in place before the tour to Australia next month.

The quest for Superman will take longer. After all, he has to propel England to do what no country has done before - a successful defence of the World Cup.



13 Nov: Canada (h) W 70-0

20 Nov: South Africa (h) W 32-16

27 Nov: Australia (h) L 19-21


5 Feb: Wales (a) L 9-11

13 Feb: France (h) L 17-18

27 Feb: Ireland (a) L 13-19

12 March: Italy (h) W 39-7

19 March: Scotland (h) W 43-22

12 Nov: Australia (h) W 26-16

19 Nov: New Zealand (h) L 19-23

26 Nov: Samoa (h) W 40-3


4 Feb: Wales (h) W 47-13

11 Feb: Italy (a) W 31-16

25 Feb: Scotland (a) L 18-12

12 March: France (a) L 6-31

18 March: Ireland (a) L 24-28

Overall record P16 W8 D0 L8