Woodward focusing on Grand Slam showdown

By Wyn Griffiths
Tuesday 17 December 2002 01:00

Clive Woodward focused his players on February's Six Nations clash with France when they gathered yesterday for the final England get together of the year in the wake of their clean sweep in last month's internationals against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The England squad, who face France at Twickenham on 15 February, met at Surrey's Pennyhill Park Hotel to prepare for the new year campaign.

"We're in a good position but everyone's feet are firmly on the floor," Woodward said. "France are the European champions and Australia are the world champions. England are doing well, we're head of the Zurich world rankings. But that's not anywhere near as important as being Grand Slam champions or world champions.

"You can only put your hand up and say you're the world champions if you've won a World Cup. Australia have done that and I think they will be the team to beat next October."

While Woodward looked forward to the World Cup, the International Rugby Board announced the launch of a new tournament involving China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The IRB Super Powers Cup will begin in April next year when Russia will play the US. After five further matches, the final game will take place between China and the US on 12 July.

"The IRB firmly believes that the tournament, like the Six Nations and the Tri-Nations, will act as a focal point for the development of the game in China, Japan, Russia and the USA," the IRB said. "It is hoped that the competition will assist these countries in closing the gap between themselves and the top-tier member unions."

The Gloucester centre, Robert Todd, is recovering at home after a severe bout of gastroenteritis resulted in him being rushed to hospital on the team's return from their Heineken Cup match in France. Todd, who played the full 80 minutes of the 31-23 defeat in Perpignan on Saturday, took part in a light training session before the team's departure but fainted twice.

He was given oxygen on the flight back from the south of France to Birmingham Airport and on his arrival was admitted to hospital. It is thought that he may have caught the infection from full-back Henry Paul, with whom he roomed at the weekend, as Paul had himself been suffering from a viral infection.

"Robert is recovering at home after a severe bout of gastroenteritis," the club's spokesman, James Bennett, said. "Todd was extremely nauseous on the flight back from Perpignan and, as a precaution, was taken to the local accident and emergency unit when the team had landed back in England."

The club's doctor, Rob Mackay, added: "There is absolutely no instance of a head injury suffered by Todd but, at this time, it is simply too early to determine his fitness for next weekend."

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