Woodward dazzled by his day of destiny

And on the 44th day, he could rest; his job completed, admittedly in circumstances that probably had the team doctor contemplating whether to prescribe a job-lot of beta-blockers. Clive Woodward had been required to witness events from behind the glass of his observation box, high in the stands, known as the goldfish bowl. It was not until extra time that he could venture down to pitch level. And it was from here that he watched his team finally shatter a glass ceiling.

Among the irreverent banners in the crowd, one had read dismissively: Wallabies v Wannabes. But no longer. England have not been defeated by a southern hemisphere team since June 2000, and now this. Australians will regard it as the final humiliation, an act which has ruptured a superiority established over decades. An England team, for once since 1966, had not choked.

Woodward had been to death and back by a thousand lances of apprehension. He battered his head against any surface he could find as his England constantly reprieved Eddie Jones' side. "I was going nuts, to be fair," the perfectionist in him conceded. "We made error after error..."

And then the England coach suddenly remembered where he was, what this day represented and who he was: a World Cup-winning coach. Reservations about England's performance mattered not an iota. He smiled at his own words, then declared. "But we've won, who cares?"

Long before his talisman, Jonny Wilkinson, finally found range and direction and smote that drop goal, long before his captain for all seasons, Martin Johnson, stepped up to accept the Webb Ellis Cup and the begrudging respect of the home supporters, there was an unspoken belief: if anyone could, "Woody" would. There was a sense of kismet about it, and not merely because historic precedent - Ben Cohen and uncle George, what some perceived as a similarity between Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Clive Woodward (surely, that honour will follow) was invoked. It all rolled together into a belief that it would replicate 1966 and all that.

The sirens who summoned him towards a watery coaching graveyard after a quarter-final elimination by the Springboks in 1999 have long since ceased their wailing. While his pre-tournament desire that "we want to be more than the best in rugby, we want to be the best in sport" may take a while yet to be fulfilled, it would take a churlish rival not to concede that never in World Cup history have a team been more painstakingly prepared. No fewer than 17 backroom staff, and the whole project costing an estimated £9m.

Few would have predicted that he would be ringmaster to such a show back in the Seventies and Eighties. As an international player, he could be alternately a dazzler or a dreamer in midfield. He readily accepts that the Clive Woodward of his playing days would have no role whatsoever in that of his coaching career.

Yet those who harboured initial doubts that he possessed the necessary mental toughness and sense of direction have long been disabused of that notion. His "Dad's Army" of forwards made a major contribution, but this is no Captain Mainwaring in command. He has constructed a team who have adhered to his principles and maintained the faith. Both in each other and their coach. While his men have continued to place the team first, he has proceeded to position them on pedestals. Failure has reacted in him responding with an almost military of discipline. Ramsey had his wing-less wonders. Woodward has his whinge-less warriors. At least for the most part.

When the players threatened a strike over pay and conditions two years ago, he warned each of them that if it went ahead, they would never play for England again. They backed down. Afterwards, Woodward admitted that a part of him admired his men's commitment to each other. It was a shrewd tactic: to threaten them, yet still emerge as their champion.

He utilises mind games as efficiently as the next coach, particularly if that coach is Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger. Thus before last season's Grand Slam he produced a quote from this French counterpart, Bernard Laporte, which pronounced: "England can never win games that really matter."

He could have snapped back in similar vein. Instead, he read out the offending words and merely claimed it had "kept him smiling all week". His players would have got the message, as well as the French. Similarly, he laughed off a recent Australian newspaper headline claiming that he was "less popular than Douglas Jardine". His response: "That's a fantastic rap. I am pleased with that."

There is a sense of fate in the way that Woodward has arrived at this zenith in his life. As a child, the son of an RAF officer, he was obsessed with the 11-man code. That all changed when he was dispatched, as a 14-year-old, to HMS Conway on Anglesy, a rugby-playing boarding school.

Woodward played for Harlequins before being accepted on a sports science degree course at Loughborough. He made his England debut and also became a Lion while a player at Leicester, before emigrating to Australia, with his second wife Jayne - the one seemingly in constant embrace with Prince Harry - where he played for Manly.

He returned with a head "full of ideas and brainwaves" and in his coaching infancy at Henley practised all-out attack. The Hawks' director of rugby, Rob Hegginbotham, reflected last week: "He was innovative, creative and forthright. However, as he was so far ahead of his time on occasions it was difficult to understand his ideas."

London Irish next embraced his ideals before England called in 1997, though not without considerable debate, one of his predecessors, Geoff Cooke, describing him as too volatile. In fact, Woodward could scarcely have been more deliberate, more concise in his thinking as he has planned meticulously for this moment. He draws much from football's masters, like Wenger, believing in confining his attention to the élite and providing them with a "no-excuses environment".

Yesterday, his men did not need to resort any. It was close; by Christ, it was close, despite England's ascendancy once Australia had scored, but the game always appeared to be in safe hands. Those cradled by Wilkinson and by the man confined to his glass box. Now that really is some kind of magician.

The Woodward England record

As a player: Centre (Jan '80-Mar '84): 21 caps, 16 points

As a manager: (Nov '97-present): P75 W56 L17 D2

2003

22 Nov: Australia 17 England 20 (aet; World Cup, final)

16 Nov: England 24 France 7 (WC, semi-final)

9 Nov: England 28 Wales 17 (WC, quarter-final)

2 Nov: England 111 Uruguay 13 (WC, pool)

26 Oct: England 35 Samoa 22 (WC, pool)

18 Oct: England 25 South Africa 6 (WC, pool)

12 Oct: England 84 Georgia 6 (WC, pool)

6 Sept: England 45 France 14 (Friendly)

30 Aug: France 17 England 16 (Friendly)

23 Aug: Wales 9 England 43 (Friendly)

21 June: Australia 14 England 25 (Cook Cup)

14 June: New Zealand 13 England 15 (Friendly)

30 March: Ireland 6 England 42 (Six Nations, Grand Slam)

22 March: England 40 Scotland 9 (Six Nations)

9 March: England 40 Italy 5 (Six Nations)

22 Feb: Wales 9 England 26 (Six Nations)

15 Feb: England 25 France 17 (Six Nations)

2002

23 Nov: England 53 South Africa 3 (Friendly)

16 Nov: England 32 Australia 31 (Cook Cup)

9 Nov: England 31 New Zealand 28 (Friendly)

22 June: Argentina 18 England 26 (Friendly)

7 April: Italy 9 England 45 (Six Nations)

23 March: England 50 Wales 10 (Six Nations)

2 March: France 20 England 15 (Six Nations)

16 Feb: England 45 Ireland 11 (Six Nations)

2 Feb: Scotland 3 England 29 (Six Nations)

2001

24 Nov: England 29 South Africa 9 (Friendly)

17 Nov: England 134 Romania 0 (Friendly)

10 Nov: England 21 Australia 15 (Cook Cup)

20 Oct: Ireland 20 England 14 (Six Nations)

16 June: United States 19 England 48 (Friendly)

9 June: Canada 20 England 59 (Friendly)

2 June: Canada 10 England 22 (Friendly)

7 April: England 48 France 19 (Six Nations)

3 March: England 43 Scotland 3 (Six Nations)

17 Feb: England 80 Italy 23 (Six Nations)

3 Feb: Wales 15 England 44 (Six Nations)

2000

2 Dec: England 25 South Africa 17 (Friendly)

25 Nov: England 19 Argentina 0 (Friendly)

18 Nov: England 22 Australia 19 (Cook Cup)

24 June: South Africa 22 England 27 (Friendly)

17 June: South Africa 18 England 13 (Friendly)

2 April: Scotland 19 England 13 (Six Nations)

18 March: Italy 12 England 59 (Six Nations)

4 March: England 46 Wales 12 (Six Nations)

19 Feb: France 9 England 15 (Six Nations)

5 Feb: England 50 Ireland 18 (Six Nations)

1999

24 Oct: England 21 South Africa 44 (WC, quarter-final)

20 Oct: England 45 Fiji 24 (WC, pool)

15 Oct: England 101 Tonga 10 (WC, pool)

9 Oct: England 16 New Zealand 30 (WC, pool)

2 Oct: England 67 Italy 7 (WC, pool)

28 Aug: England 36 Canada 11 (Friendly)

21 Aug: England 106 United States 8 (Friendly)

26 June: Australia 22 England 15 (Cook Cup)

11 April: England 31 Wales 32 (Six Nations)

20 March: England 21 France 10 (Six Nations)

6 March: Ireland 15 England 27 (Six Nations)

20 Feb: England 24 Scotland 21 (Six Nations)

1998

5 Dec: England 13 South Africa 7 (Friendly)

28 Nov: 1998: England 11 Australia 12 (Cook Cup)

22 Nov: England 23 Italy 15 (Friendly)

14 Nov: England 110 Holland 0 (Friendly)

4 July: South Africa 18 England 0 (Friendly)

27 June: New Zealand 40 England 10 (Friendly)

20 June: New Zealand 64 England 22 (Friendly)

6 June: Australia 76 England 0 (Cook Cup)

4 April: England 35 Ireland 17 (Five Nations)

22 March: Scotland 20 England 34 (Five Nations)

21 Feb: England 60 Wales 26 (Five Nations)

7 Feb: France 24 England 17 (Five Nations)

1997

6 Dec: England 26 New Zealand 26 (Friendly)

29 Nov: England 11 South Africa 29 (Friendly)

22 Nov: England 8 New Zealand 25 (Friendly)

15 Nov: England 15 Australia 15 (Cook Cup)

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