Woodward determined to regain honour

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It might be reasonable to assume that England would rather be anywhere but here today, to borrow one of Elvis Costello's more celebrated lyrics. Reasonable, but wrong. According to Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning coach and long-time believer in the contrary approach to life, his ailing team are both relieved and delighted to be facing a rampant new set of All Blacks for the second week running. "We need more of this kind of thing, not less," he pronounced, on the eve of his seemingly thankless visit to Eden Park.

It might be reasonable to assume that England would rather be anywhere but here today, to borrow one of Elvis Costello's more celebrated lyrics. Reasonable, but wrong. According to Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning coach and long-time believer in the contrary approach to life, his ailing team are both relieved and delighted to be facing a rampant new set of All Blacks for the second week running. "We need more of this kind of thing, not less," he pronounced, on the eve of his seemingly thankless visit to Eden Park.

Masochistic? Crackers? Neither, actually. Woodward, very much at his disarming best yesterday as he looked ahead to England's fourth appearance at the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby since 1963, was both deadly serious and entirely rational. "If we'd played just that one Test in Dunedin last Saturday and flown straight out of the country, the defeat would have stuck with us for a very long time," he explained. "The great thing about this game is that it gives us another chance. We were ambushed by a good side at Carisbrook, and we're grateful for the opportunity to respond. We're looking forward to the match, as ever."

All this was entirely at odds with a story peddled by an up-country New Zealand newspaper, which quoted Warren Gatland, the former All Black hooker and current coach of a champion Wasps team which contributes half a dozen players to England's starting line-up, as suggesting that the tourists were thoroughly brassed off with constant training sessions, tactical meetings and meetings about meetings. Quite what Gatland would have said had Woodward reacted to the 36-3 humiliation in Dunedin by organising a week's beach volleyball is anyone's guess. Sometimes, a chap simply cannot win.

Woodward dealt with this mini-storm in a thimble by wisecracking his way past his interrogators. "I think we'd better have a meeting about it," he said with 24-carat irony. "Look, Warren's had a great year and I'm happy for him. As for this stuff in the papers, I'll rise above it. We have our own approach to Test preparation; we prefer to do our own thing rather than copy other people. We're here to win a match and we've worked hard towards that end.

"It hasn't been a great week, obviously; we're not used to losing by 30 points to anyone. But if you ask me whether we're a happy squad, I think we are."

England say they will be far more competitive at the line-out than in Dunedin and play with a greater degree of aggression. Much has been made of the frequent outbreaks of fighting during the Dunedin Test; too much in the considered opinion of Graham Henry, the All Black coach, who believes the incidents have been "blown out of proportion". The tourists see things slightly differently and have raised a couple of salient points with today's referee, Nigel Williams of Wales, and his fellow officials.

"We have an assurance that there will be space in the line-out for both teams, and that the contest for the ball in this phase will be in the air rather than on the floor," said Andy Robinson, Woodward's second-in-command. "In the end, though, it's down to us to turn things round. We were beaten up in all the areas of physical challenge last week, but I'm encouraged by the fact that the forwards have been honest with themselves. It's not last weekend's match that concerns us now, but this weekend's. We will fight for control straight from the kick-off."

If the All Blacks are likely to be slightly less threatening in the wide areas in the absence of the injured Doug Howlett, the England tight-forward unit has been de-powered by the decision to drop Steve Thompson and Danny Grewcock, who together weigh almost five stones more than their replacements, Mark Regan and Steve Borthwick. The tourists have also conceded height by replacing Chris Jones of Sale with Joe Worsley of Wasps.

Worsley is among the form players in the party, while Borthwick enjoyed a terrific domestic season with Bath after failing to survive Woodward's final cut for the World Cup. Woodward has long insisted he has 30-plus players of Test quality at his disposal, rather than a bare 15. Today, we will discover the truth. No one in his right mind would predict an English victory, but an honourable defeat is within the realms of the possible.

Comments