Sir Clive Woodward, Director of Elite Performance at the British Olympic Association, was guest of honour at an SJA lunch. IAN COLE reports; photos by BRYN LENNON/Getty Images
Sir Clive Woodward believes England can win the rugby World Cup – despite the squad’s spate of injuries and some disappointing performances in the warm-up games.
Sir Clive, who was coach when England lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy for the only time in 2003, is still very much a rugby man even though he now operates under the title of Director of Elite Performance for the British Olympic Association.
And he told journalists at an SJA lunch in Fleet Street that Martin Johnson’s men should not be written off.
“They have a good draw and everything is going for them. They have to remember that they are not there to entertain – just to make sure they score more points than the opposition.
“They have to be focused from the very first game because in World Cups you cannot lose a single game. I don’t think anyone country has gone on to win the World Cup having lost a match along the way.
“New Zealand are hot favourites, of course, and it might be wrong to bet against them because favourites tend to win. The one team who always seem comfortable playing New Zealand is Australia – but they have to get past England first and I can’t see that happening.”
Sir Clive is still very much an England cheerleader despite being on the sidelines of a game in which he won 21 international caps at centre before running the team for seven years as head coach. So much so that he found it a bizarre experience to be attending an Olympic beach volleyball trial event in London while there was a rugby international being played across the capital at Twickenham.
Discussing the two recent friendlies with Wales, Sir Clive was not entirely happy with what he saw.
“They made a big thing about wanting to win these games, but played them like they were trial games. In Cardiff, for instance, you would have expected them to have kicked a couple of goals to get the result. If they played that game again England would win.”
Sir Clive may be lost to rugby for now – but don’t rule out a return in the future. It won’t, however, be as chief executive of the RFU, a position for which he was touted earlier this year. “I have promised people – not least my family – that I will not be chief executive of the RFU, or anyone else for that matter. It’s just not in my skill set.”
Sir Clive’s focus is on the 2012 London Olympics, just 11 months away. “I’m really enjoying the job. Last week we had representatives of 205 Olympic countries in London looking over facilities. It’s very exciting now we are so close.
“I already have plans to go to Rio to talk about 2016. I wouldn’t have taken this job if the Games were not in London. I intend to see it through and then make a decision as to what I will do next. Whether or not I stay in this job, rugby will be an Olympic sport in 2016 so I would expect to be involved in Rio in some form.”
Working for the BOA has broadened Sir Clive’s outlook on sport.
“Although I’m no longer in the changing room it has been good to get round to a number of different sports and see how things are done. I found a certain openness whenever I turned up. If I’d gone to watch rugby players being coached they would circle the wagons and keep everything secret.”
He is relaxed about Twitter, current bane of many sports clubs and coaches, and doesn’t advocate a total ban. “I have to accept it’s part of what athletes do now, though I am surprised by how much Twitter is used in the middle of competition when athletes are supposed to be so focused.
“All I would ask is that athletes use Twitter responsibly. By that I mean they should write nothing that could possibly affect a team mate’s performance or be detrimental to a team.
“There can be nothing worse, as a coach, for something to go out which adversely affects the rest of the team. So I ask everyone to think before they write. There are 26 Olympic sports, a lot of people are involved and it makes a ban impossible – even if I wanted one. We will be setting guidelines, though, which we will agree with team leaders, coaches and the athletes themselves.”
UPCOMING SJA DATES
Mon Sep 12: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Click here for more details and to book yourself in for the day.
Wed Dec 7: SJA 2011 British Sports Awards – note the date in your diary now.
All details subject to alteration. Keep checking sportsjournalists.co.uk for updates