Woodward's England determined to build on World Cup glory

Plans for 2007 title defence begin immediately as RFU and victorious coach aim to cash in on global dominance
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The Independent Online

Clive Woodward does not expect any of his victorious England team to announce retirement plans before Christmas - "I told them that this wasn't a Saga Holidays tour and that I didn't want people making statements about their futures either during or immediately after the competition," the coach said yesterday. But Woodward himself is expected to attend a meeting with the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, Francis Baron, on Wednesday to discuss ways of cementing the new world champions' status as the best team on the planet.

"Our priority now is to give leverage to the success we've achieved," said Baron. "We are negotiating three major sponsorship and broadcasting deals as we speak, and while the sports market has been tough for a while, we are very optimistic of a 20 per cent increase on our current turnover of £74m as a result of winning the World Cup. That is based on the Australians' experience after becoming champions in 1999. As for Clive, we'll start planning for 2007 the day after we get home. It took us four years to get to this point, and it will take us another four years' work to retain the title."

Woodward was slightly taken aback to discover that he would be asked to pick an England side rather earlier than anticipated - in the week leading up to 20 December, to be precise. The RFU have obtained clearance from the International Rugby Board to play the New Zealand Barbarians at Twickenham in a non-cap match that will be packaged as a celebration of Saturday's extra-time victory over the Wallabies. "I didn't know it was definitely on," the coach admitted. "It's on," the chief executive confirmed, the joyous sound of rotating turnstiles ringing in his ears.

Yesterday, Martin Johnson and his triumphant colleagues were suitably bleary-eyed after a night on the tiles. Some of them shared a beer or three with Prince Harry in a city club - "I'll say this for the boy; he can drink," pronounced one member of the squad - while others, Lawrence Dallaglio included, hitched a lift back to the team hotel in Manly from the driver of an empty police wagon. Now, in the cold light of day, the senior officers of a party mocked by the Australians as "Dad's Army" are weighing up their options.

Johnson indicated more than a year ago that this tournament would mark the end of his international career, and while he has backtracked to a degree in recent public conversations, he could not say yesterday whether he would make himself available for the 2004 Six Nations' Championship, which begins in February with a match against Italy in Rome. Neil Back, the captain's colleague and confidante at Leicester, definitely plans to continue at the highest level, as does Dallaglio.

"We're talking about personal decisions, obviously, but from where I'm standing there is no reason to want to stop," said the 31-year-old No 8 from Wasps. "We have a policy of selecting the best players for England duty, irrespective of whether they're 21 or 31. It's the right policy, too. Any country who approaches selection in any other way has it wrong, as we've just demonstrated by winning here.

"There will be a knock-on effect; those of us returning to Premiership rugby over the next couple of weeks can expect a fierce challenge from those players with an eye on our places. But for the people involved with England in the here and now, it's a matter of enjoying this moment and then sitting down together to talk through a few things. I'm sure people will reach the right conclusions, once they've thought about it carefully."

Woodward has already signed a contract taking him through to the 2007 World Cup in France, and he intends to travel there with a side rated clear favourites to defend the crown. "I saw us as favourites to win here in Australia and I believe we lived up to that rating throughout the competition," he said. "I think we're comfortable with the burden now - we've won 21 of our last 22 matches, after all - and the way I look at it, I would much prefer to go into a World Cup as the top-ranked side, rather than fourth or fifth. If you're favourites, something must have gone right with your build-up.

"We regather as a Test squad in January, and I have no intention of going through the good and bad aspects of the final against the Wallabies until then. When you turn the volume off, forget about it being a World Cup decider and just look at what happened in the game, some of the players will be pleased with the way they performed and others will not be pleased at all. But the inquest can be saved for after Christmas. When we get to the Italy match, I'll pick on merit, as always. There will be no sentiment, no favours, no nothing. I'm very clear about how this group best operates, and that's how I'll approach it."

One thing he will not leave until January, however, is a close study of the refereeing in Saturday's final. England were penalised heavily at the scrum by Andre Watson, the South African official, despite their obvious superiority in that area. Woodward was deeply concerned during the match, and remained less than amused yesterday, despite his diplomatic response to questions on the subject. "I'll look at it carefully," he said. "We went into the game feeling we had a clear advantage at the scrum, and to be penalised so often there was very difficult to understand."

Happily, the forthcoming round of official receptions - visits to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace are both on the cards - will take Woodward's mind off the confusion over who did what to whom in the darkened recesses of an epic encounter. And anyway, it is less than a month until the next game.

Wilkinson named player of year

Jonny Wilkinson capped his match-winning display in the World Cup final when he was named yesterday as the International Rugby Board's player of the year.

The England fly-half was a runaway winner as the newly crowned world champions swept the major awards at the IRB's annual presentation dinner. Wilkinson was picked from a shortlist which also included his team-mate Steve Thompson, plus Imanol Harinordoquy, Richie McCaw and Phil Waugh.

England were named as the team of the year while Clive Woodward won the coach of the year award.

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