The season of goodwill is well and truly over, just in time for Christmas. Clive Woodward, the England coach, spent yesterday taking pot-shots at just about everybody and everything - principally David Campese and the BBC, along with those who dared question his selection for this weekend's so-called World Cup "celebration" fixture against the New Zealand Barbarians - while making it abundantly clear that this latest red-rose occasion is not to his liking. Suddenly, life on Planet Twickenham is far from hunky-dory.
Woodward slated the BBC for asking Campese to present England with their Team of the Year award at Sunday's televised jamboree, describing the decision as "crass" and condemning the corporation for ignoring a number of more suitable candidates, including Sir Bobby Charlton and the Princess Royal, both of whom attended the event. "It's typical of British sport that the moment you achieve something fantastic, someone tries to make a joke of it," he snapped. He then dismissed Campese, the great Wallaby wing whose outspoken assaults on English rugby have enlivened the sport down the years, as a figure who commanded "little respect" in the international game.
Fairly flabbergasting, all things considered. The BBC were knocked back by this little outburst: "We're surprised, especially as the Rugby Football Union's director of communications thanked us on Monday for a fantastic evening and said the players and management were positively buzzing after the show," said their spokeswoman, Caroline Inman.
A daft situation then developed into something seriously ludicrous when the BBC's director of sport, Peter Salmon, offered to walk around Twickenham wearing a sandwich board, apologising for any offence.
Sunday's awards ceremony was certainly misjudged, but not in the way Woodward identified. The truly deflating aspect was the BBC's childish obsession with Jonny Wilkinson, who did not take the stage as part of the 31-man squad responsible for winning a world title in what many consider the ultimate team sport, but joined Woodward and the England captain, Martin Johnson, in an élite, trophy-bearing gang of three. Wilkinson, the most reluctant of super-heroes, looked mortified, and with good reason.
Neither Johnson nor Wilkinson will play at Twickenham on Saturday; along with Phil Vickery, Ben Kay, Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio, Matthew Dawson, Will Greenwood and Josh Lewsey, they are otherwise engaged, either on Premiership business or in the recovery room. Woodward was in no mood to apologise to any supporters who might feel short-changed by the absence of so many big names from a match actively marketed by the RFU as a "homecoming" fixture for the World Cup winners, but he was clearly unhappy at being forced to whistle up a side under awkward circumstances.
"I don't think the supporters have been turned over," he said. "If they're backing England, as I'm sure they are, they will understand that we can learn more by fielding this kind of team.
"Anyway, I didn't organise this match, and there are selection restrictions attached to it that I'm not happy about. But I'm paid to coach this team, and it's my job to get on with it. I had no intention of picking people like Johnson or Dallaglio for a game against an invitation team - I have too much respect for them - but I believe I've selected a very strong side. I'd be more than happy going into the Six Nations' Championship with these players. In fact, I think we could beat Australia with this line-up, and beat them comfortably."
Matt Stevens, the dynamic young South African-born prop from Bath, will make his first appearance in a senior England jersey, and there are starts for two of the brighter talents among the new generation of backs, James Simpson-Daniel, of Gloucester, and Ollie Smith, of Leicester. Five of those who started the World Cup final in Sydney last month will be involved from the kick-off - Jason Robinson, Ben Cohen, Trevor Woodman, Steve Thompson and Richard Hill. A sixth, the Bath centre Mike Tindall, is on the bench.
Those who hoped to see Charlie Hodgson, the creative outside-half from Sale, will have to wait for Woodward's substitution strategy to kick in - always assuming they see him at all. Hodgson is struggling with a knee injury suffered during his club's Heineken Cup defeat in Biarritz last weekend, and is not certain to recover in time to resume his representative career.
"I may be back on the phone to the Premiership coaches, rustling up reinforcements, and I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear from me," said Woodward, wearily. "I just hope they understand my position and aim their vitriol at those responsible for putting this game in place." It was a pointed remark, and one that left his audience with the distinct impression that this fixture is far more trouble than it is worth.Reuse content