Star chamber holds no fears for Woodward

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Clive Woodward is to face the media en masse today for the first time since Black Sunday, when England were shunted out of the World Cup by the boot of South Africa's drop-goal demon, Jannie de Beer.

Clive Woodward is to face the media en masse today for the first time since Black Sunday, when England were shunted out of the World Cup by the boot of South Africa's drop-goal demon, Jannie de Beer.

Despite calls from the usual suspects for his head, Woodward has lasted longer than Romania's coach, Mircea Paraschiv, (sacked at the weekend because he created too much tension in the squad) and the All Blacks' John Hart. The setting up of a big press conference at Twickenham suggests that Woodward is staying put.

To underline that, Woodward, whose contract anyway runs until August 2000, will be outlining his plans for England's immediate future, with particular reference to the inaugural Six Nations' Tournament, as well as fielding flak on the immediate past, ie the World Cup.

One thing is certain, Woodward will not be throwing his hat into the ring for Hart's old job, which is apparently what one of his assistant coaches, John Mitchell, has done. Mitchell is not alone, though. The former All Black captain Brad Johnstone, who has worked a minor miracle in converting Fiji from Sevens specialists into a competitive 15-a-side squad, has also expressed an interest in the post.

Johnstone's five-year contract expires next month and yesterday he said: "My rugby philosophy is still built on the traditional ethic of domination, but I think I could add some variety to the style currently being played in New Zealand."

Meanwhile, with European rugby on the menu for the next few weeks, it has still not been decided if the winner of the Tetley's Bitter Cup will qualify automatically for a place in next season's Heineken Cup, although the issue is expected to be resolved by the New Year.

Yesterday's fourth-round draw, which saw the entrance of most of the big clubs, threw up one monster tie, Gloucester, winners of the first final back in 1972, were drawn at home to 10-times winners Bath.

The matches are scheduled to be played on the Millennium Bank Holiday, Sunday 2, or Monday 3 January. Given that Bath have a Premiership match at Saracens the previous Thursday and Gloucester a trip to Bedford the day before, there is every likelihood the big one will be on the Monday.

But John Fidler, the Gloucester manager, emphasised last night: "No date has been fixed yet. We do not even know if it will be the televised match. For the moment it would be unfair to say anything other than the match will go ahead on that Bank Holiday weekend."

Fidler, a veteran of the 1978 Cup-winning side, added: "There have been some classic cup ties between the two clubs. Historically they have always been hard fought and it is good to have them at Kingsholm."

Gloucester, who yesterday signed Llanelli fly-half Byron Hayward on a two-year contract, have met Bath seven times in the competition to date. Bath have won the last five having lost the first two, which were in the opening two years of what was then referred to rather coyly as the RFU Knock-out Competition.

The ripples from the so-called merger of London Scottish, Richmond and London Irish mean Wasps, as cup holders, and Leicester, as Premiership champions, have been given byes into the next round to even up the numbers in the absence of Richmond and Scottish. And there is every chance that Twickenham will be staging the semi-finals back-to-back on the same day. An early decision is expected.

Fourth round draw London Welsh v Exeter Bristol v Henley Gloucester v Bath Manchester v Nottingham Newcastle v Moseley Bedford v Saracens Coventry v Bracknell Birmingham-Solihull v New Brighton Worcester v London Irish Leeds v Sale Northampton v Nuneaton Orrell v Rugby Darlington M P v Rosslyn Park Harlequins v Sturrock

* Leicester and Wasps given bye