Grand Slam beckons for Woodward
February 20, 2000
Clive Woodward was the proudest man in Paris after seeing his England team stand toe to toe with World Cup finalists France and slug out a stunning Six Nations Championship victory.
The performance England craved during their failed World Cup campaign might have arrived four months late, but conquering Europe as potential Grand Slam champions would represent a reasonable consolation prize.
Neither Wales England's next opponents at Twickenham on Saturday week tournament new-boys Italy nor struggling Scotland look capable of upsetting the apple-cart.
While England bamboozled Ireland through dazzling running rugby, France floundered on breathtaking defence and fly-half Jonny Wilkinson's left foot.
Not even when England were briefly reduced to 13 men during the tension-packed closing moments, could France capitalise.
With lock Simon Shaw and wing Austin Healey both sin-binned, France laid siege to England's line, With a combination of iron-willed resistance and substitute forward Martin Corry preventing a certain try by somehow getting his body between ball and ground following an irresistible French forward surge, the underdogs had their day.
England's first championship clean sweep since 1995 now beckons barring a catastrophic loss of form as often misplaced English arrogance has now been replaced by genuine belief in a team of true world class potential.
This was Woodward's finest hour during a sometimes difficult two-and-a-half-year coaching reign, and he did not disguise what the victory meant.
"When we beat South Africa in 1998 that was a one-off game. This win was more important to me, he said.
"I am a great believer in the Six Nations, and I realise we will probably now be made favourites to win it, but if it goes wrong against Wales, then
"The defeat against Wales at Wembley last season still hurts," he added.
England's first win at Stade de France after two previous failures left Woodward singing the praises of heroic performance like Wilkinson, whose five penalties proved priceless, skipper Matt Dawson, prop Phil Vickery and Lawrence Dallaglio.
"It was my proudest moment as a player or coach," said Woodward reflecting on England's emotion-charged post-match dressing room huddle.
"I will never forget it as long as I live."