Woodward's attention to detail brings just reward

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The Independent Online

This marvellous Rugby World Cup has revealed the two sides of the sporting coin. On the one side England win and everyone connected is a hero, from the players to the management, headed by Clive Woodward. On the other side New Zealand lose and their coach, John Mitchell, has to do the equivalent of walking the plank; he has to reapply for his job, for which there will be a queue of applicants. Such is the lot of the head coach.

Life as head coach or manager can be precarious: even reaching the semi-final is not good enough. Of course it is even worse in football. Results, however, are there for all to see. And sometimes even winning is not enough, since performance comes under question.

For Clive Woodward, however, life is all blue sky, and that is how it should be. England's victory is well deserved. This World Cup triumph formalises the progress made by the national team, especially in recent years. If the Rugby Football Union moved only slowly and not without tension from the amateur to the professional era, then it has at least done so thoroughly.

Clive has had the necessary backing both in continuity in the job and financially. There has been a cultural revolution compared with the frugal past and the sizeable funding he needed to back his vision has been provided.

American football is the most competitive and professional of sports in all ways. Following a learning visit to study the franchises, Clive was influenced by the coaching systems and division of duties in their pursuit of competitive edge. In this he saw a way forward for England to be structured with a comparable in-depth support system appropriate to the game of rugby union.

Regular and invaluable time with the players as a squad has been negotiated with the Premiership clubs. Attention to detail has been the mantra in the Woodward era. As a result we now see the technical efficiency and team collectivity which underpins England's run of success.

When challenged in earlier days, Clive said: "Judge me by performance in the Rugby World Cup." In this he was vindicated, if a little out on his timing, given England's quarter- final elimination in the 1999 competition. Now, however, England have arrived in the promised land.

And what a way to arrive, with Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal sailing safely and surely between the uprights right at the end of extra-time. His kicking superiority again made the difference in the scores. However, his contribution was far greater than as a goal-kicker; with a clarity of role restored in midfield, Wilkinson was able to display his all-round skills of generalship at first receiver as England sought to impose themselves on Australia.

Tactics from both sides were as expected, but throughout the game England had the edge. They attacked with ball-in-hand, their rhythm restored, especially in the first half. This was above all a team effort, with forwards looking to establish their expected superiority over their Australian counterparts. In this regard they were usually successful. There was the occasional shortcoming in the line-out. However, penalties conceded at the scrum were of more concern. The scrum provides a major challenge to referees, who in an effort to get on with the game and avoid unsightly and dangerous collapsing of scrums appear to be de-powering this set piece. In this game England suffered from this Super 12 interpretation.

However, away from the set piece the return of Richard Hill, so quiet in his play but so effective, brought cohesion to the firepower of the pack. Through the pack's efforts, with Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio in the van and Matt Dawson again incisive at scrum-half, England gained momentum and built their attacks in the space provided. One excellent try resulted from the scintillating Jason Robinson; another would probably have clinched the game, but a glaring opportunity went astray, a knock-on with the try line begging. Translation of excellent approach work into tries had not been an England strong point in the tournament. In this game the greasy conditions accentuated the pressure of the occasion in making handling difficult and undermined England's edge in possession.

Australia started with a flourish and a try to Lote Tuqiri, who was imposing throughout. Stirling Mortlock also ran well. Wendell Sailor, however, went AWOL. He was missing in action as Australian attacks were increasingly cut down behind the set piece and ruck. Against this defence, and under pressure in the scrum and line-out, the Wallabies had no chance of reproducing their New Zealand game plan.

The potential cutting edge of the wing forwards Phil Waugh and George Smith was blunted: they worked hard and with no little skill, but could not deliver going backwards. Australia were not helped by the blood bin absences of their outside-half, Stephen Larkham, who had returned to form and maintained Wallaby hopes with several excellent diagonal kicks later in the game. Indeed, Australia hung on right to the end, showing outstanding resolve against the odds. Elton Flatley revealed his mettle as a kicker, landing one nerveless kick to level the scores at the end of normal time and another to square things again in extra-time.

Credit must be given to the staunch Australian efforts which helped to serve up the most dramatic of sporting finales. However, within the physical and emotional challenge of this unique game England never lost their focus, nor the insistence on winning by Martin Johnson and company.

Following their success with the Olympics, Australia have again delivered in their presentation of a global sporting occasion. Joint ventures rarely work well, so when their proposed partnership with New Zealand broke down it allowed the tournament to be marketed to Australians, with consequent benefits. As a result even those games involving lesser rugby nations were relatively well attended and funds flowed in.

This will have been some relief to the International Rugby Board, who has issues to address, nevertheless. If the tournament is to continue as it is then the management of the game needs to ensure a levelling up, year-in, year-out, through investment, as well as exposure through more international games between the haves and the have-nots. Furthermore, when it comes to the next tournament in 2007, surely it cannot be too difficult to ensure player-availability for the likes of Samoa, with finance provided if necessary from the profits their presence helps to create in the World Cup.

Overall, this has been a wonderful rugby union experience - and particularly so for the English. Certainly the game in England must benefit through the intense interest the tournament has generated. As a result, we can expect more spectators - and, importantly, more players, especially the young - to come into the game. The investment has paid off - and how.

Jack Rowell, Bath's director of rugby, coached England from 1995-97