Byline: PETER JACKSON
A FORTNIGHT after presiding over England's first failure at Twickenham since the last century, Sir Clive Woodward is still hurting. 'The pain is horrendous,' he says, trying hard not to wince at the 80-minute calamity against Ireland.
'You pride yourself on winning. That's your job. The first person I look at is myself. Part of leading the team is that you take the pats on the back when things are going well and you take the arrows and bullets when they're not.' Woodward knew it had been bad at the time, but it wasn't until he sat down at home in his leafy corner of Royal Berkshire the following day that it dawned on him how bad it really was. Bad enough for him to skip Sunday lunch in the national interest.
' It probably was worse than I thought,' he remembers. 'I watched it through once. Didn't stop the tape at all, just made various notes. Had the rest of the day off and got stuck into it first thing Monday morning.' In six years, Woodward has changed not just the face of English rugby, but its entire mentality because he had the nerve to build a team to beat the world and the vision to see it through. Now he needs the nerve to identify the causes of England's nasty accident and get them back on the road.
Talking to him this week, it is clear that he takes full responsibility for the defeat - and is confident about what needs putting right. 'It always stops and starts with me. I still feel the pain of losing in Paris two years ago but that will go now and the pain of the Irish game will take its place.
Losing is painful, especially when it hits you straight in the face like it did against Ireland. It wasn't just a bad day at the office.
It was far, far worse than that.' Defeat was a huge shock, but time has allowed Woodward to put it into some sort of perspective.
'No team wins all the time,' he says. 'This is the first game we've lost in 23 outside the French game in Marseilles, which we lost by a point with our second team.
'We've taken our foot off the pedal, which had to happen at some stage.
Now it's a case of getting your foot right back on the pedal. We know why it happened. We will put it right. When you are watching a game, all you are thinking about is how you are going to win it. As it was we played badly and deserved to lose by more than six points.
' I knew this was waiting to happen and you had to be very calm about it and do your job. We want to get back the attitude we had in New Zealand, which inspired that headline, "White Orcs On Steroids!"' What if Wales do an Ireland and the world champions end up losing at home twice in a row?
'Hypothetical,' he says. 'I don't think it will happen.' Having built one great team, Woodward knows that he now faces the ultimate task, building another good enough to retain the World Cup in 2007. It demands a difficult balance between winning today and fashioning a team for the future.
'We are going through a period of change,' he says. 'You have to manage it and relish it, not be scared of it. In an ideal world I would have had a lot of preparation time with the players but that wasn't to be.' Woodward's hard-nosed decision to leave Jason Leonard and Neil Back out of today's 22 rather than permit both one last appearance at Twickenham is consistent with his rigid attitude towards retirement. …