Woodward focused on world power

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The Independent Online

There are certain similarities between Clive Woodward and Kevin Keegan: both are ferociously patriotic, both are prone to the occasional emotional outburst and both have proved themselves eminently capable of winning international matches, provided they are not directly linked to the capture of silverware. But they differ to the extent that Woodward is not, and never will be, a quitter. "I can understand what went through Kevin's mind at Wembley at the weekend," saidEngland's oval-ball manager yesterday, "but so long as you are confident that you are doing the right things, there is no need to walk away."

There are certain similarities between Clive Woodward and Kevin Keegan: both are ferociously patriotic, both are prone to the occasional emotional outburst and both have proved themselves eminently capable of winning international matches, provided they are not directly linked to the capture of silverware. But they differ to the extent that Woodward is not, and never will be, a quitter. "I can understand what went through Kevin's mind at Wembley at the weekend," saidEngland's oval-ball manager yesterday, "but so long as you are confident that you are doing the right things, there is no need to walk away."

Woodward might easily have walked away on several occasions during his three-year tour of red rose duty; indeed, some of his more severe critics still find it astonishing that he did not turn on his heel when England failed to progress beyond the quarter-final stage at the last World Cup.

However, he is now in one of his more buoyant moods, thanks to the summer victory over South Africa and the prospect of three autumn Tests that might conceivably establish England as a serious power in the global game. He is not blasé about his future - far from it, having just witnessed Nick Mallett's scarcely credible demise as Springbok coach - but he has rarely felt more upbeat about life on the Twickenham beat.

"It's only when you feel that you don't have the support of your players and your staff that you start thinking negatively," he said as England's élite squad gathered for a training day in Bagshot. "If things are terminal, then I guess you have to go. But I'm as confident as I can be that what we're doing with this team is right." And who should replace Keegan? (Woodward is, after all, a dedicated follower of the wrong-shaped ball). "I'd always have Englishmen coaching our national teams, provided there's one good enough. If there isn't, go get the best in the world. But I have a problem when good English candidates aren't considered."

A more pressing problem may turn out to be early-season casualties: England will soon take on Australia, Argentina and the Boks in the space of three weeks, and the fitness concerns - Mike Catt of Bath, Julian White of Saracens - are already piling up. Woodward agreed with his captain, Martin Johnson, that this season's mid-August kick-off was a spectacularly unfunny joke, and appealed to coaches and players to manage their programmes sensibly, but he was also bullish about forthcoming events. "We're massively better organised and far more settled than three years ago, and while every other side has also moved forward - let's face it, no one's been sitting around doing nothing - I now feel we can play in a variety of ways. The experimentation period is over. It's all about winning now, nothing else."

Talking of winners, Premiership-topping Saracens are in the hunt for another A-list overseas signing to stand alongside Thomas Castaignÿde and Tim Horan, their summer captures from France and Australia respectively. Josh Kronfeld, the most-capped flanker in All Black history, confirmed yesterday that he had played his last game for New Zealand and was close to agreeing a deal with an English club. Saracens, on a real high after their Heineken Cup victory in Toulouse at the weekend, have been on the Kronfeld trail for months and are clear favourites to secure his inimitable services.

Still on the Kiwi front, England have been lumbered with New Zealand in the draw for next January's World Cup Sevens in Argentina. Ireland are even worse off. They must survive trial by Fiji in the pool stage.

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