Where it’s all going wrong for English rugby

The word on the street is that Clive Woodward is being lined up to replace Martin Johnson as England’s rugby coach. Nothing could be worse for English rugby. Johnson is merely the watered down version of the Woodward problem.

The Woodward problem is not just that Woodward is an unlikeable bean counter but that he led England to win a world cup in 2003 following a method that led to the demise not just of England as a rugby team, but to the English Rugby Football Union  as a vibrant and healthy organisation.

It was only twenty years ago that rugby was an amateur sport. As an enthusiastic but untalented player myself I captained teams that included current full England internationals. The gap between the top and bottom in terms of talent was no smaller but the general ethos of the game enabled players to mix with each other whether elite or not.

Woodward’s regimental approach to coaching, his meticulous and painful attention to detail and his bureaucratic style destroyed the Corinthian spirit in England (though it lives on in the further reaches where the stink of Twickenham is less pervasive). Wales and Ireland continue to enjoy their rugby and their international players play and behave with an approach that reflects the values that I grew up with.

Ask any Southampton fan!

England however has been taken over by corporatism. A visit to Twickenham for an international is now an exercise in branding as much  a game of rugby. Every minutes pent inside the ground is a grab at the spectator’s pockets. The only exceptions being the high proportion of  people milling around in corporate hospitality who have been bought into the culture at prices in excess of £600 per head.

The triumph of 2003 was Pyrrhic. We ended up believing that the victory justified the loss of spontaneity and fun that Woodward’s style demanded. In fact we won despite losing the fun, the next eight years have shown what a barren legacy that loss has left us with.

Let’s face it – rugby is fun. England rugby is not fun. The scowling Johnson is not fun, the management consultant that is Clive Woodward is not fun and it’s no fun going to Twickenham.

If you want fun, stick with your local club, enjoy mini and youth rugby and stay away from the RFU – it is toxic.

If the RFU want to see how it’s done – and done in England, they should get out of their BMW’s and spend some time with the rugby league clubs. That’s where we should be looking for our Warren Gatland


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Where it’s all going wrong for English rugby

  1. Thornton says:

    I can’t say I agree with you on this one Henry – I’d love Woodward back! He brought a business ethos to and England set-up that was professional only in name.

    I do completely agree about local/mini rugby, that’s where rugby should be played for the pure fun of it along with the friendship. At professional level its about Winning! (to steal the title of Woodward’s autobiography) and attention to detail is vital.

    I must say I also agree with Healey and Greenwood who have recently argued for scrapping representational rugby at younger ages. This moves players into the ‘professional’ mindset far too early when they should still be playing for fun.

    And the money grabbing RFU part I couldn’t agree more with, not sure anyone in their right mind would argue that!!

    • henry tapper says:


      I can’t argue that Woodward bought a business ethos to the RFU – I do argue that that ethos has sucked the fun out of watching our international team – and the lack of passion on display in New Zealand is what you get when you run a team like a business.

      When I see England play with the enthusiasm and vision the players do at club level , I’ll believe again but you only need tosee what Johnson’s done to the Northampton lads to see how the dead hand of woodward works.

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