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Premiership Rugby

Clive Woodward update – Ready for the challenge

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

AT: You are always saying that this is an outstanding group of players but what does make them special?

CW: The major factor is what happens on the pitch, we are here to win test match rugby and if we do that everything will move forward. I think to achieve that we need to set impeccable standards off the pitch, I think that is where the leadership of Martin Johnson and in fact all the players come to the fore. For example I was asked this week, what happens about the eight players not in the twenty two and we sat down many years ago to discuss this, not only for their disappointment but for their good times, it is all documented and they all agreed to it but it is discussed by them not by me and they come up with what we call teamship rules on how they are going to operate.

It is more than a gentlemen’s agreement, it is a handshake agreement there is no contract in place but it covers everything that you could possibly think about, of what can happen both positive and negative. So when you get to situations like this you trust them totally that they will operate in the right way because it has been discussed by them, they understand that being in what I call a high performance team, it is more than just winning test matches, we have got to set impeccable standards off the pitch.

In my experience you have more chance of losing the game off the pitch by not setting the right standards than actually on the field and if you get everything right off the field the chances of success, especially with the very talented group of players such as we have, is increased. They really understand that, that it is not just playing for England, not just training for England and not just about winning for England, it is about understanding every concept and aspect of building any successful team. It is not simple operation, it is very complex at times but they have got the intellect and enthusiasm to sit down, listen and understand and get involved in this aspect of the game.

AT: You set a standard for England and each week you set what they are going to do in training, if the players don’t agree with that and feel that they are being over or under trained would they discuss that with you?

CW: We have what we call a governors meeting, I don’t know where that name came from but probably from one of the TV soap operas. There is no set time for it, it is usually once a week and normally I have breakfast with Martin Johnson, another senior player and one of the new players, so this time it has mainly been Stuart Abbott and one other player. We just meet for breakfast, we normally we sit down and ask if there is anything to discuss and normally it is no but by the end of breakfast we are discussing all sorts of things, it is just about getting feedback from the players through that sort of forum. The bottom line is that if Martin especially wasn’t happy and he vary rarely comes to me but when he does you know that there is an issue.

Sometimes from a management and coaching point of view we think that we are doing it right but we also know that you can sometimes get too close to it and get things badly wrong, so you need feedback from the players. They are there to play and we are here to manage and coach. The governors meeting is excellent as it covers all sorts of things; the playing side, the hotels, the social side and a lot of the good ideas often come from the newest member, not normally the Martin Johnson’s or Lawrence Dallaglio’s as they have been around as long as I have!

But sometimes when you talk to the new guy he brings a fresh outlook and quite often we all turn round and say ‘how obvious was that’. So it very important that we get feedback from the players, we are not really a democracy in this environment (laughter) if you know what I am saying but it does work and that is how we operate.

AT: The players seem incredibly relaxed this week yet at the press conference on Wednesday they showed a steely determination that also makes them a great side.

CW: I just think that they are very experienced and I came into this World Cup believing that we needed an experienced team, World Cups are not the place to try out new players or have a young squad. This is the biggest tournament in the world for our sport, you need an experienced and settled side, which is what we have got.

The team needs experience, especially in handling the media which we think that we do very well in terms of getting the balance right, we are not here on a PR exercise, we are here to win. We need to get the balance right, players enjoy their meetings with the media but some of the media do get exasperated when we do have to say no. The coverage now is just fantastic and players are coming across in the right way and they have a huge determination to win tomorrow night and you can’t go into your shell, you must speak to the media, go out of the hotel and sign autographs but it is just about getting the balance right.

I am still pinching myself because we are going into the final of the World Cup with the strongest possible team. If you asked any coach what they would hope for, it would be to have everyone fit, everyone raring to go. The players all know that and that is why there is a quiet confidence about the place but we don’t want to go into a shell, we want to do everything as normally as possible but not do anymore than that. This week has been a lot about saying no to people as well as saying yes.

AT: I know that you back off on the day of the match and Martin Johnson takes over, his words before the match must be very important and even more so before this game?

CW: Of course they are but it is not a case of me backing off, I have got a huge role to play tomorrow along with Andy Robinson and Phil Larder. We have to be at our absolute best to make the right calls but during the Saturday build up the players are very much on their own. I think that you would be very surprised with the dressing room, it is very calm and very quiet, there is no ranting or raving, everyone is just talking about performance, what we have got to do, the kick off, the restart, the first tackle.

Quite a few players will say quite a few things but Martin Johnson is pulling the strings at that point, there are a few words from me and Andy but no more than that. We are ready now and I think that a lot of what is said is massively overstated and you always hear these Churchillian speeches and they are massively over emphasised but you never hear of what happens when teams lose. The same things have been said in the other dressing room and I think that the media massively overstate this.

Hopefully tomorrow night will be like we always are, very quiet, very focussed, just talking about the game with no emotion, nothing about winning, it is just about performance and how you are going to play especially for the first five or ten minutes, if you start well, you tend to play well and it is important that England start well tomorrow night.

AT: There is at least 50 million people who will wish you the best of luck and so do we all, good luck Clive.

CW: Thank you very much and to all English people around the world watching this game, all I can say is that whatever happens win or lose we have thrown everything at this, it is a very competent group and I passionately believe that if England start well we can win this game.


NB There will be no transcript of Clive on Saturday 22nd November.


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