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Premiership Rugby

Zurich exclusive – interview with Clive Woodward

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

Clive, I gather there's an injury problem?

Clive Woodward: Yes, unfortunately it was decided yesterday that Alex King couldn't be considered for the World Cup – he's got a knee problem. He played very well against Wales but it is an old injury. It's flared up in the last two weeks and he's had a lot of treatment on it. We all decided yesterday that there was no way we could consider him for the World Cup which he's agreed to very reluctantly and it's very disappointing for him because he had a big chance of going. So he's not going to be considered for the World Cup and he's off today to see the various specialists. We wish him well – it's very disappointing but we've got to move on.

Presumably he will have to have an operation before he goes back to his Zurich Premiership club?

CW: I'm not sure whether it needs an operation. He's going to see various specialists but there's no way that we can risk selecting someone like that on Monday and clearly he agrees with that decision and when a player agrees, you know that it is the right decision. I feel very sorry for Alex. He's done very well here so he's now got to concentrate on his own body and get himself fit for his Zurich Premiership club London Wasps. It's sad, but I can only pick guys who come the end of September are going to be fully fit.

Clive, is that a bit of relief because there are several people vying for the fly half berth and maybe this has solved a problem for you?

CW: It's not a relief, it's the complete opposite. I was very disappointed as I'd have liked to have involved King in one of these two warm-up games against France. We've got to have at least three people in the side that can play 10. Clearly we've got Wilkinson and Grayson so we've got to make sure that we get somebody else – Healey can play 10 and I'm also going to invite Mike Catt. He's going to come up today and do some conditioning work and various tests and then he'll go home. Also we've still got Dave Walder who I haven't invited back this week. I just need to make sure my options are fully covered. We've just got to get through this weekend's game and we are picking up a few injuries at the moment, then I'll make the call on Monday morning.

The injury problems that have occurred, a few have happened on the training ground. Is this something we should expect?

CW: We shouldn't expect it. We've got an outstanding conditioning team headed up by Dave Reddin and an outstanding medical team, headed up by Doctor Simon Kemp, but we are training three of four times a day and you can see the guys down at the weights room at 7am. So we are doing a lot and they are tired, but it's all about peaking for October. We want to arrive at the World Cup as one of the fittest and most powerful teams. They're probably doing more work than they would normally do and be accustomed to doing but they are doing it brilliantly. I have to say it's inspirational seeing these guys in the gym. Just because they're doing so much more, you're going to pick up the odd injury. It's a tough regime but I think they're all enjoying it and none of the injuries have ruled anybody out with the exception of King, but that didn't come through any training – it was an knee problem that had been aggravated in the Welsh game. This week Vickery has pulled something in training but he hasn't missed a session and has been with us from July. Now I'm confident that with the exception of King and Charlie Hodgson, who we lost before that, there is no-one else who has had any training injuries. We've just got one more game to get through. I'm looking forward to Saturday night and I'm hoping to be able to pick from a full strength team.

If Mike Catt comes into the squad and proves that he is up to the fitness required, is it still a tall order to ask him to build up to the level of playing international rugby? He's been out of international rugby for a while.

CW: Yes, it would be a tall order and I haven't picked him – we've just got to make sure all our options are covered. I've been talking to Catty daily and I've preferred him to stay at his club and play as many games as possible. I got the tape of his game against Exeter yesterday and he looked in great shape and played well. Now its just a case of bringing him up – I want to see him do some conditioning work and will give him a full medical which all the players have had. With Catt, we didn't bring him into the camp because I wanted to see him play as much as possible for his club. When I saw him playing for Bath at the end of last season he wasn't fit or in the right shape, hence why we gave him the whole summer off. We didn't take him to Australia or America, we gave him the whole summer to get fit. I watched him in the game down at Pontypridd and he looked very good, and he'll play one more game this weekend.

With King getting injured now I've just got to make sure everything is covered, including my reserve list. I'll be announcing the 30 and I'll be announcing formally the reserves in each position who've got to be on stand-by, because if we get a knock they'll be on the first plane and it's a long way to Australia. I've got to get that right as well. I wouldn't read too much into the Catt thing but I'll be letting the media know today as I always do.

It's vital, this game against France, even more so after last week's defeat because the squad need to go to Australia with the confidence of having that game under their belt and being able to beat France?

CW: I think we've got to keep our feet on the floor. We want to win every game but they are in preparation for the World Cup. In hindsight now we were disappointed last Saturday but we did learn the right lessons and I've no regrets at all. I could have sent the first XV down to Marseilles and got beat, there's no right or wrong here – these are genuine warm-up games.

With the team we've got out and our record at Twickenham we obviously want to win the game on Saturday. We're playing France, we've got a full house and we've got a damn good side out. I think the worry is these guys are so looking forward to playing and a little over-anxious about playing. I'm disappointed about a couple of guys not playing – Vickery and Dallaglio have got minor injuries.

Outside of that we've got a good side. It's a big night for a couple of players who definitely haven't made the final 30 yet. Stuart Abbott, it's a huge opportunity for him, and Iain Balshaw will definitely get a run. So it's a massive night and it's interesting talking to these players – the Johnsons and Wilkinsons – they need a game and they need to make sure that they are in good shape in preparation for the World Cup. So it is a big night and one we want to win, but England will go to the World Cup with confidence whatever happens on Saturday night.

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