Woodward insists Tindall's return shows positive approach

Rugby World Cup: Woodward demotes influential centre to bench for final as red rose line-up hints at conservative approach

Chris Hewett
Thursday 20 November 2003 01:00

Clive Woodward was an international centre before he shouldered the burden of harnessing England's vast human resources and coaching the pick of the crop to a World Cup final, and a very good centre he was too. Woodward did some fairly daft things in his time - he took a good deal of stick for a Lions' defeat in South Africa in 1980, and even more of the blame for England's frustrating failure to beat Wales in Cardiff a year later - but he was a class act. As a result, he knows his onions when it comes to vexed issue of midfield partnerships.

Which is why nobody came close to challenging his decision, reached after considerable thought and much soul-searching, to demote Mike Catt, his most recent hero, to the No Man's Land of the substitutes' bench for Saturday's momentous hurrah against the Wallabies, and replace him with the less flamboyant, less individualistic Mike Tindall.

Woodward has not always been happy with his centre alliances ­ indeed, he is frequently unhappy, as his record of 39 changes in 74 Tests suggests ­ but he is stone-cold certain that Tindall and Will Greenwood are the right men in the right places this time.

They had better be, for England's sake. The Australians are not world-beaters in the midfield department; this is not 1991, when the young Tim Horan and Jason Little delighted in ripping up the opposition, or 1999, when a more knowing Horan linked up with the aggressive Daniel Herbert to help the Wallabies to an unprecedented second title. But the current pairing of Elton Flatley and Stirling Mortlock are nothing if not physical, committed and aware. Give them a centimetre, and they will steal a kilometre. Both have scored startling breakaway tries over the last year, Flatley most memorably against England at Twickenham last November.

Predictably, Woodward presented his one change as proactive rather than reactive. "It's not about countering the Wallaby back division, but about enhancing our own," he said. He also insisted that Tindall's less cultivated, more route-one approach did not necessarily suggest that England would adopt a confrontational, conservative strategy this weekend.

"We play with more width than we're given credit for," he said. "There again, you don't win World Cups with width; you do it by winning rugby games. Am I exasperated by all this 'boring England' stuff? Not at all. If you can't see the amusing side of it, you shouldn't be doing this job, or even come to Australia if you're English. If you want boring rugby, we could give you it ­ you ain't seen boring yet. I would just like to remind people that I'm paid to win Test matches, and that we've won the last four against the Wallabies. It's the only statistic I know."

It was one of Woodward's great declarations of confidence, rooted in the knowledge that his England know how to win big matches, even when they are a notch or two off their optimum game. He was supported in this by his defensive specialist, Phil Larder, who described the squad as the most confident he had worked with in either code of rugby. "I've never before been involved with a team of people so psychologically strong," he said. "I've worked against such teams ­ Wigan and the Australian Kangaroos in rugby league ­ and I've taken a close look at the Aussie cricket team. I feel we have that x-factor now, the ability to win games that maybe we shouldn't win."

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