November 15, 1999
In the immediate wake of England's quarter-final exit to the Springboks coach Clive Woodward stated, "I'm big enough to look after myself". A Tuesday morning press conference will tell us whether Woodward opts to take the long lonely walk to the scaffold or whether he intends to see out his year 2000 contract.
In what has been billed as a "World Cup debriefing" Woodward will talk to members of the third estate and explain what went wrong. He will do so with the loud voice of Keith Barwell, Northampton's owner, ringing in his ears. Barwell, never one to keep his own council, has called for the England coach to, "fall on your sword", following RWC'99 disappointment.
During the World Cup Woodward repeatedly promised "no excuses". He thanked the RFU for giving the team every possible support and, with a reputed £8 million being spent, he had every reason to be grateful.
However, since then Woodward has complained about the clubs having supremacy of contract unlike the Southern Hemisphere giants that sign their players direct to the union. Something he likened to, "skiing uphill". But it is difficult to see what greater benefit would accrue to the England camp if they had first shout on the top forty players? The World Cup certainly was not lost through insufficient time together, almost the opposite, as the England squad were together long enough to justify a divorce.
Woodward has attempted to drag England out of their collective, safety first shell. Unfortunately when the big bad Boks felt disinclined to be bullied by the England pack the men in white reverted to type and kicked the ball away. The blame for this can hardly be carried by Woodward alone but its just possible that the coach got carried away by the press and public hype which surrounds his side. One newspaper, which I won't embarrass, even dubbed the man a "genius".
More importantly is the lack of tactical appreciation that Woodward and his cohorts showed. Twice in the semi-final France scored a try against the All Blacks with a chip ahead. This is an obvious ploy against a flat defence, and one which is pushing a pliable offside line to its limits, yet I don't recall England using it in either match against Southern Hemisphere giants.
If Woodward was to resign he would surely have done so by now, taken the John Hart route and stepped down before having to suffer any more darts.
The rumours currently circulating that Dick Best will be handed the reins once more cannot be wholly dismissed but there are probably better candidates out there. The lustre has dimmed a little on Best's halo since his side has managed just the one point from their last five outings.
Rob Andrew is linked with the job but he says he needs more time to learn the trade. However, his old team mate Dean Richards surely carries the best credentials of the lot.
Richards holds universal respect amongst players and bufties alike. More importantly in his Leicester side we see a microcosm of the England fifteen. He knows better than any, how to play England's natural game and how to win with it. His Leicester side does exactly that most Saturday afternoons.
In a recent interview with SCRUM, Richards stated that he had given no thought to the England job, "I think Clive will continue, at least until the end of the season, so the question is irrelevant". Another season gaining experience in charge of Leicester, and another trophy in the Tiger's cabinet, will see "Deano" ideally placed to return to the England squad as coach when Woodward finally does commit harakiri.