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Sir Clive Woodward On Coaching England: ‘The Teamroom Was Electric. It Would Kick Off At Times’

The 2003 Rugby World Cup winning England team will forever go down as one of the greatest sides in English Rugby history.

In the four years preceding England’s historic World Cup win in Sydney, the Red Rose had won three Six Nations titles, two Triple Crowns, one Grandslam and had never lost a home game at Twickenham. An astonishing run of success that saw Sir Clive Woodward’s side become the first Northern Hemisphere side to ever hoist the William Webb Ellis Cup and break up the Tri-Nations stranglehold on the tournament.

Jonny Wilkinson’s famous extra time drop goal at Stadium Australia had immortalised a legion of English players forever. Men like Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson, Will Greenwood, Jason Robinson, Richard Hill and more had secured their place in rugby history as being among the very best players that England had ever produced.

And while the enduring image of Johnson lifting the Rugby World Cup for the first time will live long in the memory and hearts of every English rugby fan, the man who had orchestrated it all was tucked away at the very end of an impromptu stage tournament organisers had set up for the trophy presentation.

Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward, the last Englishman to receive his Rugby World Cup winners medal but the man who was responsible for the whole process to begin with.

“My job was to create the number one team, not just in world rugby, but in world sport,” Woodward said at the recent One Zero Conference in Dublin.

“I always chuckle when people say ‘oh you were so lucky, look at the players you had’, and I was, I absolutely pinch myself, I was so lucky.

“But if you can imagine the team room, I’m stood here and I’m the coach, then you got the team and you’ve got Johnson sitting there, [Jason] Leonard, [Lawrence] Dallaglio, [Phil] Vickery, and then you start to put in the kind of guys you now see in the media, [Will] Greenwood, [Matt] Dawson, [Ben] Kay and [Austin] Healey, this teamroom was electric and it kicked off at times.

“There were some big, big personalities in there but that’s what you want. I wanted the most talented people in the room and people to challenge each other and they did. It was great fun but you look back on it now and a lot of stuff happened to actually get the job done.”

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Woodward feels that the perception of his team was often understood as this golden generation of English players that loved playing with each other and high-fived their way to World Cup glory in Sydney, but in reality, he admits that the team dynamic was often much more complicated and complex than just a great group of outstanding players.

“In a sporting environment, if you’re in a high profile situation, these players have the ability to write newspaper columns the next day and some of them do,” Woodward added.

“Some of them have ghostwriters, some of them are going to write books in the future and you’re trying to run this high profile team.

“I think everyone is exposed in that room because what I found with high performing teams is that it’s not a perfect environment. Things are said, it does kick off, it’s not this wonderful thing.

“Just because you happen to win a World Cup or an Olympic Gold medal, it’s normally because there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes.

“It doesn’t happen in this wonderful scenario so often things are said. I have certainly said things to players that I hugely regret.

Clive Woodward

“You just say whatever in a team situation where I shouldn’t have said that. But you want that environment because that’s what high performing teams do.

“You want players to know that within this room what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. But I quite liked it kicking off at times because we wanted to win because you want opinions coming in.”

The 60-year-old was credited with a lot of things during his time in charge of England but one of his biggest achievements was really thrusting English Rugby into the professional era.

During his time as England Coach, Woodward completely overhauled how England players looked at their nutrition, diet, training, conditioning and even their sleep, but that all of those factors were somewhat subsidiary to Woodward’s overarching definition of culture.

The Cambridgeshire native wanted to put his own stamp on English Rugby after playing for England during the 1980’s; a mediocre period for English Rugby where the senior side won just one Five Nations championship throughout the entire decade.

Woodward wanted to change how England operated as a rugby team and as a unit as they entered the professional era, so he introduced a list of rules that he thought would improve the overall working environment of the England team.

The rules, or the Gospel According to Clive as Robert Kitson from The Guardian phrased it in 2002, were inspired by a Brisbane dentist, Dr Paddi Lund, who was suicidal until he changed his entire outlook on his business and life before becoming significantly happier and wealthier as a result.

Woodward’s ten commandments were as follows –

1 Dress Must be presentable at all times.

2 Language No swearing in public.

3 Governors Team representatives to liaise with management.

4 Punctuality Must be 10 minutes early for meetings.

5 Selection Omitted players must congratulate their rivals.

6 Mobile phones Must not be seen or heard in team hotel.

7 Books/press No dirt-dishing articles.

8 365 days England players are never off duty.

9 Be present Don’t just turn up, make a contribution.

10 Fun Work must be enjoyable.

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England coach Andy Robinson gives a team-talk as manager Clive Woodward looks on

The rules played a pivotal part in building England’s culture and identity with Woodward claiming that “you can tell more about a person or a team from their punctuality than anything else”.

As mentioned earlier, rule seven proved to be particularly divisive given the extra income players could generate from writing newspaper columns and books, but that the players strictly abided by all rules, even if it meant writing ‘the most dead dull’ book ever as Woodward claims.

“What happens in the team room is in the team room, but as long as we all walk out that door holding hands, that’s fine,” said Woodward.

“Because we want to be the best in the world. We want to win a World Cup. We want to take on the real enemy, which to me, was always New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, that was the enemy, not Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

“To beat them we have got to have every player contributing, not being scared or intimidated of saying the wrong things.

“To me it was always I don’t want to read about it in the paper in the next few days, or read about it in your book in ten years’ time, because if you’re going to create this culture you have to do this.

“They couldn’t get to an agreement on this by the way, this took a long time, because there was a real split between people who wanted to write books and newspaper columns and other players who would probably never be able to write a book or do a newspaper column, and I was more on their side.

“Eventually they came back to me, and in writing, it basically said ‘we want to write books, we want to do press’, but the teamship rule is this – “we will never, ever write anything in one of our books, or newspaper columns, that anybody within the teamroom would take offence to, whether it be a player, a coach, a doctor or whatever.

“So when you read Martin Johnson’s book you now know why it’s the most deadly dull book you’ll ever read in your life.

“But he still sold millions of copies so you don’t need to give away team secrets.”

Woodward still sticks by the rules today as he refused to be drawn into naming the players he said regrettable things to, and as for his former captain Martin Johnson, it appears that rule 10 is still clearly in use.

To listen to the full Sir Clive Woodward interview click here.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.