Woodward invests faith in youth

Two new caps may be key for England as they face an Ireland side set on achieving first win in London since 1994

Clive Woodward chose the eve of the inaugural Six Nations' Championship to announce that he would relish a second shot at World Cup glory in Australia in a little under four years' time, a declaration that will no doubt have exasperated the growing band of red rose sceptics who question whether he should be allowed to get as far as this coming Monday, let alone the autumn of 2003. The England coach has taken it squarely on the chin since the so-called "Boot of God" left him flirting dangerously with rugby's Grim Reaper in Paris last October, and defeat by Ireland today would up the ante far too significantly for whatever remains of his peace of mind.

Clive Woodward chose the eve of the inaugural Six Nations' Championship to announce that he would relish a second shot at World Cup glory in Australia in a little under four years' time, a declaration that will no doubt have exasperated the growing band of red rose sceptics who question whether he should be allowed to get as far as this coming Monday, let alone the autumn of 2003. The England coach has taken it squarely on the chin since the so-called "Boot of God" left him flirting dangerously with rugby's Grim Reaper in Paris last October, and defeat by Ireland today would up the ante far too significantly for whatever remains of his peace of mind.

The fact that the Irish genuinely believe that this 113th meeting between the white and the green has their name on it serves only to tighten the ratchet another notch or two. If England go belly-up today, they will not have a snowball's chance of surviving their return trip to the Stade de France a fortnight hence. Woodward would then be two-zip down, out of the championship running for the third time in three seasons and under all sorts of pressure to bow out, hand over the reins, vacate the hot seat or whatever it is failed head honchos do these days.

Except that Woodward has not performed nearly so badly as his critics like to make out. If his win-loss record looks fairly shabby on paper, very nearly half of the 28 Tests of his tenure thus far have been against the big three southern hemisphere nations - a far greater proportion than was ever encountered by Geoff Cooke or Jack Rowell. Those who accuse England of stumbling their way through a desperate World Cup campaign really mean that they suffered a desperate 80 minutes against South Africa. Martin Johnson's side put a total of 213 points past Italy, Tonga and Fiji - the Fijians, remember, were one of the success stories of the tournament - and lost a classic set-to with the All Blacks because some big bloke with an honours degree in déjà vu decided to revive the spirit of '95. It happens.

Meanwhile, more outstanding young talent has been fast-tracked into the red rose set-up than at any time in the post-war era. There are two new caps today in Mike Tindall and Ben Cohen, and there will be a third if Woodward decides that Iain Balshaw's footballing brilliance has more to recommend it than Cohen's route-one attributes of extreme pace and subLomuesque strength. What is more, David Flatman would almost certainly have embarked on his career as the new Jason Leonard - probably by replacing Jason Leonard himself - had he not injured himself in the Saracens-Northampton cup tie last weekend.

But the coach is uncomfortably aware that all this progress will count for nothing unless his young, vulnerable-looking side finish in credit this afternoon. Indeed, it is fair to suggest that Woodward will be every bit as on edge today as he was three-and-a-half months ago, when England and South Africa squared up to each other in their World Cup quarter-final. This is partly because every coach fears for his new caps, but more because he knows that Ireland have what might be called two-thirds of a decent chance of winning in London for the first time since 1994.

Four of the Irish tight forwards and at least three of their outside backs would push unusually hard for a place in this England side - a far cry from last season in Dublin, when only the front row would have fancied their chances. They are strong where England are most fragile: up at the sharp end, where Keith Wood is on a wonderful roll, and in midfield, where Mike Mullins and the exciting Brian O'Driscoll are capable of asking the kind of questions that Mike Catt, playing out of position, and the debutant Tindall might find difficult to answer at this juncture.

Yet the issue is likely to be decided in the remaining third: the middle five sector covering the loose forwards and half-backs. Here, England are incomparably stronger, especially as Neil Back's suspect fitness suggests that Joe Worsley, the form flanker in the Allied Dunbar Premiership, will get a run sooner rather than later. Once again, Ireland are going in against the old enemy without Eric Miller, whose new-age gifts appear to be lost on the national coach, Warren Gatland. Miller is precisely the kind of footballer who can go toe to toe with Richard Hill and Lawrence Dallaglio and still be standing at the final bell. Can the same truly be said of Dion O'Cuinneagain or Anthony Foley?

It will be an itchy one for Woodward this afternoon, and if things go wrong at six, seven and eight, the Irish will be a serious threat. All things being equal, though, Jonny Wilkinson should kick England to anarrow victory.

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us