Dave Craven: Return of Woodward likely but only if he can end Olympic ties

IF, as they say, preparation is the key to performance, then England's rugby union side can at last begin to look forward to better times.

In any sporting event, success does not just occur. It has to be nurtured, encouraged, organised and planned. Individual and innate talent often proves the deciding factor during the endgame, the coup de grace which leaves a lasting impression to all who witness it, but to get to that point you require a system in place to create the actual opportunity.

Well, that's the modern-day consensus anyway. Apparently, the Rugby Football Union has finally seen sense itself and wants to bring Sir Clive Woodward back into their system to allow him to restore past glories.

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It may be five years too late, given the absurd decision to overlook England's World Cup winning mastermind for the ineffective and under-qualified Rob Andrew as their elite rugby director in 2006, but better late than never.

The man who made that costly appointment – RFU chief executive Francis Baron – has long since departed himself and it is the decision of his replacement John Steele to sanction a radical overhaul in the corridors of power at headquarters.

He has made the role of elite rugby director – and effectively Andrew – redundant and created a fresh position of performance director which will be advertised this week.

The predictable names of South Africa's World Cup winning chief Jake White and ex-Australia coach Eddie Jones – the man Woodward triumphed over in Sydney eight years ago – have been thrown into the ring while Nigel Melville, the former Otley and England scrum-half is also mooted, but it is widely thought it is Woodward's job if he wants it.

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There will be no need for him to send in his CV. The RFU are well aware of his vast talents and he is believed to be Steele's preferred choice.

Indeed, in all reality, he can be the only choice if England want to move forward. He has all the pedigree and experience to fulfil the difficult role of someone charged with setting up a structure to coach and service all the national teams, achieving elite standards.

Currently, it seems only a question of whether the famously fastidious 55-year-old will be willing to stand down from his current position of British Olympic Association director of elite performance.

Woodward has been named as deputy chef de mission for the 2012 London Games and, with that gargantuan event now just around the corner, it would be understandable if he felt the need to see the job through.

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However, despite his dalliances in football, briefly with Southampton, the financially-rewarding public speaking circuit and his recent appointment with regard to the Olympics, rugby is undoubtedly his true love and the chance to make England the finest on the planet once more is likely to be too tempting an offer to turn down.

The visionary Woodward resigned just 10 months after England's finest hour in Sydney, citing the RFU's lack of foresight and investment as the main reason.

Their apparent willingness to revel in that World Cup glory rather than concentrate on developing further for 2007 riled him and his comments were explosive during his final press conference.

That scathing attack was still relatively fresh in the minds of the RFU in 2006 when a disgusted Woodward was asked to apply for the position eventually handed to Andrew while his star may also have waned with the unmitigated disaster that was the British Lions tour to New Zealand the previous year.

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However, the blatant ineptitude of Andrew, whose legacy from the last four years amounts to him continually looking disgruntled in the Twickenham stands while looking down on a hands-tied coach, whether it be Andy Robinson, the horrifically-treated Brian Ashton or current incumbent Martin Johnson, has only served to make him more attractive now.

An embarrassed Andrew has effectively been left needing to apply for a new sanitised post of rugby operations director, which thankfully will not involve the senior England team. If he has any dignity, he will simply walk away from Twickenham to allow the game a clean start.

The enticing prospect of Woodward re-uniting with Johnson – his victorious captain from 2003 – would give the sport a terrific boost ahead of the global tournament at the end of this year.

Together as coach and on-field leader they not only achieved that World Cup triumph but previously helped dominate all three southern hemisphere opponents – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – in utterly convincing fashion not seen before or since.

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Undoubtedly, Johnson holds deep respect for his erstwhile manager and the working relationship between those two would be far more harmonious than any he held with the often smug and lacking Andrew.

At that infamous press conference seven years ago, Woodward was asked why he was leaving the England post.

"I cannot compromise," he said. "Winning is about inches. Look at Kelly Holmes – she won by inches. We won the World Cup by inches. You don't win World Cups by compromising.

"You can't take short cuts if you're trying to be the best in the world. We won by an inch, because we did that little bit more than our opponents."

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If the union can be made before the World Cup this autumn, great.

If not, hang around and wait until Woodward is ready. The RFU must heed his words; they cannot compromise or take any further short cuts again.

If they do, they must prepare to fail.

Dalglish set for bumpy return

WHILE suitably sarcastic, the cries of "You're getting sacked in the morning" were obviously a little premature.

After all, Kenny Dalglish had only been appointed Liverpool's caretaker manager barely 24 hours before yesterday's FA Cup defeat against Manchester United.

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However, such is the raging beast of modern top-flight football, with its ever-increasing demand for instant success, maybe the time will soon arrive when dutiful 'caretakers' are also mercilessly given the boot.

Dalglish should take note. If anyone is going to survive at Anfield, it is King Kenny given his hugely iconic status with the Merseyside club and he should manage to stay in the job until the end of the season as pre-determined.

But at what price? How much will he regret taking on the task? The pressure was too much the last time he was in charge 20 years ago and football has intensified immeasurably in the intervening two decades.

Yesterday's torturous events at Old Trafford were a quick reminder of what could be in store and while determinedly feeling he can help his beloved club there is a clear caveat – even his previously untouchable star may become tarnished in the months ahead.