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Probably not the answer

I recently promised Rusters that I would do my best to hold my tongue on Rugby World Cup issues, and most particularly the fall-out consequent upon England’s early departure from the tournament, and therefore today feel it necessary to begin with an apology and explanation as to why I am breaking my own vow less than a week later.

The answer is simple. Even since the run-up to the RWC began, and Sir Clive Woodward began accepting BBC, Sky or eventually ITV punditry jobs either pitch-side or in studios at the various stadia at which the warm-up games were being played – this on the back of his newspaper articles for the Daily Mail and other outlets – the ‘elephant in the room’ has been the issue of whether he had a personal axe to grind and/or therefore an interest in being part of any RFU solution to taking England forward to the 2019 and beyond.

When directly pressed upon the subject, as he was over the weekend by Lawrence Dallaglio in a ITV studio discussion hosted by John Inverdale, Woodward was careful to disavow such interest, but did so in such a fashion (i.e. smiling, shaking his head and saying “It’s not going to happen”) that implied there have been two or three discussions before over time which came to nothing and – even if the RFU were to contact him, which was unlikely, he’d been mucked about by them previously so badly that he wouldn’t take them up.

However, today one of Fleet Street’s finest, Paul Hayward (Chief Sports Writer of the Daily Telegraph) has written a piece upon the issue of whether Sir Clive Woodward should be involved in any new regime consequent upon the RFU’s forthcoming review into England’s abjectly poor 2015 RWC campaign.

It is well worth reading – see here – DAILY TELEGRAPH

My position is this. I have long-held reservations about Sir Clive Woodward ever getting involved again in the RFU or England rugby. I do not know the man personally – I’ve never met him – and am only going on what I have seen or heard from of him in the media, read in his 2004 autobiography Winning! and/or upon what I have heard others say about him.

The fact is that whilst Woodward is many things – a strong-minded individual, a maverick, an excellent ‘thinker outside the box’, a master of media-management and ‘jargon-speak’ – he also has four fundamental weaknesses – he lacks charisma; he’s not a great coach; he’s not a great man-manager; and he’s not a team player.

I’m firmly in the camp that regards him as a colourful, more-than-competent ‘front man’ whose best/only position is always as that of a titular head of a project. However, he’s most comfortable of all  in the role of ‘outsider’, someone eternally working against the grain and the vast blancmange of any organisational bureaucracy he’s just joined.

He’s also flaky. He makes outlandish demands (for resources, ways of doing things, experimental initiatives) of those he works for and – if they’re granted but don’t work, quietly buries them … but if they’re denied him he either uses the refusal as an excuse to explain failure, or else flounces out, citing that he cannot do the job if he’s not given the tools [that of course only he has decided he needs] to do it.

He’s actually more in his element on the outside, making mileage of telling other people where they’ve gone wrong and/or how he’d do it better, than he is actually doing the job itself.

I need cite no more than his habitual record of firstly, his serial practice of walking out upon virtually every employer he’s ever worked for, usually after upsetting people at all levels of the organisation.

Secondly, his poor coaching record with England. After getting the head coach job in 1997 he announced that his England was going to play a wide, open-running, fast, exciting rugby before. Rapidly discovering that this wasn’t producing results, he changed his approach to solid pragmatism … narrowly survived being fired after failure at the 1999 RWC … and then was lucky enough to inherit (or being in charge) whilst a uniquely talented and experienced team came together, led by Martin Johnson, for the 2013 RWC campaign and eventual triumph.

Arguably in practice this had relatively little to do with Woodward. Okay, he drew a lot of attention to himself (and thereby shielded the players from it) with his ‘motormouth for hire’ routine, he managed the media and tinkered at the edges, but in the end [this probably his best managerial decision ever] he basically let Johnson and the others get on with it.

Thirdly, the debacle of his managership of the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

Fourthly, his time at Southampton football club.

Fifthly, his time as director of elite performance at the British Olympic Association.

Sixthly, his performance as a television pundit on the 2015 RWC. Being a ‘RWC winner’, of course, his comments naturally carry significant weight but, frankly, if you examine them, they’re no more insightful that those of any of the other studio pundits, or indeed of most every rugby fan that you could ever meet down your local pub.

In short – my view (and it is only my view) – is the RFU could and should do far better than hiring Sir Clive Woodward as part of any new England rugby structure.

About Sandra McDonnell

As an Englishwoman married to a Scot, Sandra experiences some tension at home during Six Nations tournaments. Her enthusiasm for rugby was acquired through early visits to Fylde club matches with her father and her proud boast is that she has missed only two England home games at Twickenham since 1995. Sandra has three grown-up children, none of whom follow rugby. More Posts