The Tim Glover Column: You can understand the siren voices, but even the knight has had his day

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After England had lost their way in the Six Nations Andy Robinson expected the flak to fly, and it duly exploded over the shires. By finishing fourth in the championship for the second year running Robinson might even have had a sense of déjà vu, but he would surely not have envisaged a return to Twickenham for the prodigal knight.

Sir Clive Woodward back in bed with the Red Rose? There was more chance of Gordon Brown cutting the tax on a packet of cigarettes. Yet if desperate times need desperate measures it is possible to see why Woodward's name entered the debate. First and foremost, of course, he delivered on a scale for England that had only previously been dreamt of. The Webb Ellis Cup was prised from the southern hemisphere and paraded the length and breadth of the land. The Rugby Football Union cashed in on what was meant to be the start of a golden age.

Woodward got carried away in all the excitement. Honoured with a knighthood for services to rugby, he turned his back on the sport, cited the interminable dichotomy between Premiership club and country and sailed off to the South Coast for a fresh Premiership challenge. England winning the World Cup, the football version at Wembley in 1966, was an abiding memory for a 10-year-old Woodward whose goal was to play football, not rugby.

His family followed Chelsea not the Leicester Tigers, so his move to Southampton was something that had been at the back of his mind for some time. But it has not gone according to plan. The Saints dropped out of the Premiership, are struggling in the Coca-Cola Championship and there have been moves for a takeover at the club.

This was not how it was meant to be for Woodward, ambitious, impatient and the man who in Australia in 2003 successfully applied business principles to the management of a professional sport.

In the interim it is not hard to imagine Sir Clive following the fortunes of what had once been his England and screaming at the television screen. Nor is it hard to imagine some people, whose hearts beat close to the Red Rose, wanting him back to work the oracle. Clive at Twickenham would be like Apollo at Delphi.

Well, no it wouldn't. More like a frustrated Saint. Martin Johnson has been biding his time, but at some point he can have a role to play.

England's dramatic decline from world No 1 to also-rans can be compared with their standing in the late Eighties, when they were truly awful. Despite their poor showing in the Six Nations, Robinson's men aren't nearly as bad, although a shake-up of the coaching team is anticipated at the RFU's annual review next month.

Robinson (left) asked for a team manager two years ago and he may belatedly get his wish. As for Woodward, he has been there, done it and got the knighthood. When he resigned in 2004 he had already signed a new contract that would have taken him up to the World Cup in 2007. He said he would be happy to stay on for that season's autumn internationals. The RFU said "thanks but no thanks", and at his farewell press conference he gave them both barrels.

In between leaving Twickenham and joining Southampton, Sir Clive's rugby CV took, as they say in football, a dive. He took the biggest, the best prepared, and the most expensively assembled squad in Lions history to New Zealand and they were lucky to get stuffed 3-0. In hindsight he should never have taken the job on, or been allowed to. As a brand the Lions took a mauling; so did Woodward's reputation as a visionary coach.

When England visit Australia in the summer they will be up against a whole new coaching team. John Connolly, who once plied his trade with clubs in France, Wales and England, has taken over from Eddie Jones and will be joined by Scott Johnson, leaving Wales to search for yet another Redeemer (step forward Gareth Jenkins and Phil Davies). Johnson, who took over, briefly, from Mike Ruddock after the head coach resigned in extraordinary fashion just over a week after Wales's heavy defeat to the English at Twickenham, will be the Wallabies' "attack coach".

In one respect, professional rugby is getting more like football, but England are unlikely to follow the example of Australia, who felt drastic action was needed to halt a dire run.

It is only in England that the club-country debate rages. The national coaches say that not only do they get too little time with the players but that when they get them they are tired to the point of exhaustion. Chris Spice, the RFU performance director whose own role is under review, responded last week to an attack on junior levels of the international game - age group, the A team, sevens - by saying: "The Guinness Premiership is a fantastic environment to develop players but it does not replicate the intensity of, or preparation for, a Test match."

Yet when England won the World Cup one of the prime reasons for their success was deemed to be the strength of the Premiership.

That and the presence of Sir Clive. When he left he said he would hate to think that England's achievement was "only a small blip in history". In his book Winning! he wrote: "The choices we make can affect others in both good and bad ways. If it's the latter they may come to hold it against you. Whereas if you can help people to achieve something they couldn't have done otherwise, they'll never forget you." Woodward made his choice. And they haven't forgotten.

One tiny flaw in Augusta's long-game plan

That exclusive garden party in Georgia, the one that makes invitations to Buckingham Palace look like a free-for-all, starts a week on Thursday, which means that the azaleas, flowering crab apples, pink dogwood and magnolias will be in bloom.

Yes, we're talkin' about the good ol' Masters at Augusta National, where the mint juleps go down faster than a baton from an English relay squad. But all is not rosy in the garden. Time was when nothing changed at Augusta, not even the clocks, but now they keep lengthening the course.

Jack Nicklaus used to say the Masters was a "monument to everything great in golf". Now he says they are ruining his favourite course, which inhibits all but the longest hitters. And there's the rub of the green. The combination of hi-tech clubs and balls means that players are overpowering courses and the game's nuances are a thing of the past.

Worried about that bunker over the hill? Forget it, it's history with the latest rocket-launcher. So courses are getting even longer - which, as defined by Catch-22 - plays into the hands of the mega-drivers like Tiger Woods.

"I don't like the way golf is going," moans Paul McGinley. "It's too one-dimensional. The big, powerful guy is getting rewarded and that's not how the game should be." McGinley is a 5ft 7in millionaire.

The top three money- winners on the US Tour last season were Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. None made the top 100 for accuracy off the tee. Even so, expect to find them on the leaderboard at the Masters.

Tommy Bolt would not have tolerated any of it. He played when golfers had to employ a caddie chosen by the club. He told one: "I know the course like the back of my hand. I don't want to hear a word." Silence until the 13th, where Bolt hit a peach. "That was some three-wood," Bolt said. "Great shot, boss," the caddie finally replied, "but you hit the wrong ball."

Comments