When Clive Woodward invited people to assess his worth as England's coach four years ago, rather than saying, "Judge me on the World Cup," perhaps what he should have said was, "Judge me after the World Cup." Because the 1999 tournament, in which Woodward's men were knocked out by South Africa at the quarter-final stage, represents a watershed in Red Rose fortunes.
Their indifferent performances in the build-up to that World Cup and during the tournament itself certainly invited the tumbrils, but thankfully Woodward was spared the axe.
Since then England have played 37 Tests, winning 33 and losing just four, and now they have strung together 13 consecutive victories - a record for the national team - a run that includes the triumphal double over New Zealand and Australia last month.
It is little wonder then that the Rugby Football Union has decided to hang on to their head coach by awarding Woodward a four-year extension to his present contract, a deal which will take him up to the end of the 2007 World Cup. Graeme Cattermole, the chairman of the RFU Management Board said yesterday: "Clive has done an outstanding job for England and taken the side to new heights. His track record over the last four years is superb with 33 wins out of the last 37, 10 consecutive wins against southern hemisphere opposition and England unbeaten at Twickenham since 1999." That last defeat, a 16-30 reverse, was against New Zealand.
"We wanted to acknowledge the positive work he has done with England by extending his appointment for a further four years," added Cattermole.
Woodward credited his back-up team, saying: "I'd particularly like to thank the England players and my coaching staff and management team for their partnership and support over the last four years, without which we would not be in the position we find ourselves in today.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed working as Head Coach and I look forward to continuing in the role to the end of the World Cup in 2007."