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So there it was. As the ball sailed through the posts on that wet Australian night in November, we all knew what had just happened, as did Jonny Wilkinson and Will Greenwood as they leapt in the air and hugged each other....England were World Champions, the last few seconds didn't matter, England could hold out. I remember the feeling as everyone at my rugby club went mad, first at the sight of the drop goal, then the final whistle and then as Englands greatest captain lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy above his head, pure elation!
Looking back on that night now though it needs to be looked at in perspective, the final was possibly one of the greatest contests ever seen on a rugby field, and the game against Wales was a great spectacle, but we, England, hardly set the World on fire with a stunning style of creative running rugby, though its hardly surprising.
I didn't agree with all of Woodwards decisions when he picked the World Cup squad, but i could see what he was doing and in some ways i admire him for doing it. Woodward picked a team with one sole purpose, to WIN the World Cup, not to play well, entertain the crowds, and maybe win it, just to win it. And they did.
So England now are World Champions, and will be for the next four years. Now it is time to use this base to mould the England team into a side that will be a joy to watch, one that will make the other nations look on in admiration not resentment, and a team who's style of play will draw new supporters and players to the game. It won't take that much to do it either, but it has to start now.
I have to admit that doing this would have been easier if Woodward still had his main man to depend on, to control the team, but Martin Johnson has made his decision and that is that, though England has lost one of the greatest players and captains to walk on to a rugby field in any team, and possibly any sport. As a player and captain, Johnson won everything, he has a at least one winners medal for each of the different competitions he has ever competed in at senior level; the Heineken Cup, the World Cup, Lions 1997 South Africa Tour, 6 Nations Grand Slam, The Zurich Premiership. You get the impression if Johnson played in the Super 12's he'd win that as well...but it is time to move on.
So who should replace him? My vote is Lawrence Dallaglio, captain of one of the best club sides in Europe and a man with a list of winners medals almost as impressive as Johnson's. It would be something of sweet justice for Dallaglio as he lost the captaincy to Johnson after being set up in a drugs scandal by the News of the World, and i feel that it would finally put a lid on this episode to return the captaincy to Dallaglio. There are other candidates: Richard Hill and Neil Back - Both men could do the job but i think they are better left to concentrate on their own games and help with the leadership unofficially added to the fact that Back is already one of the defensive captains in the team. Phil Vickery - A very strong candidate who would probably be my joint second choice. A great captain for Gloucester and possibly one for the future, but it is hard to captain a team from the front row. Jonny Wilkinson - Again joint second choice, though i feel this would be a bit of a gamble. Making Wilkinson Captain could work one of two ways; 1. The David Beckham Effect - Making Wilkinson captain raises his game to new levels, with Wilkinson achieving true legendary status. 2. Too much to think about - Fly Half is one of the hardest positions to play and already involves a huge amount of decision making, Adding the responsibility of captain to this could prove to be detrimental to JW's game and prove a waste of his talent. Will Greenwood - Too old i think and already a defensive captain. The captains shirt must be secure, and although WG holds the no 12 shirt at the moment, Ollie Smith is his Succesor Elect and this could be sooner rather than later. Ben Kay - The outside bet and one for the future, a leader in the mold of Johnson but possibly hindered by the fact that he has little captaincy experience at club level, could be the surprise choice though.
Now thats dealt, with my opinion of what the squad should be for this years 6 Nations is as follows:
Front Row - Jason Leonard, Phil Vickery, Julian White, Trevor Woodman, Steve Thompson, Mark Regan The props pick themselves, as does Steve Thompson. Some people would claim that Leonard should retire or be dropped, but noone knows the International scene like JL and if he knows he cannot perform than he will go, but not till then. As replacement hooker i would have gone for Andy Titterell but his ban has ruled him out so Mark Regan gets the nod.
Locks - Ben Kay, Steve Borthwick, Danny Grewcock, Simon Shaw. With Johnson gone the no 4 shirt is gonna be hard to feel but i think Steve Borthwick, along with the other three who are established England regulars, Steve Borthwick is the form player and the man for the future and this would give Kay and himself the chance to establish a partnership for the world cup in 07 as i doubt Shaw or Grewcock will still be around.
Back Row - Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Joe Worsley, James Forrester. The first 4 are dead certs and are four of the best back row players on the planet. With Lewis Moody out injured my final place would go to James Forrester the pacey Gloucester no.8. Forrester is a definite for the future and would aid England attempts to move to a more running game as he is very skilled with the ball in hand.
Srum Half - Andy Gomersall, Matt Dawson, Kyran Bracken As much as i like Matt Dawson, he is a forwards scrum half, and though he may be the best in the World at this, i feel to move England in the right direction Andy Gomersall should be given the nod. He has a fast accurate pass which would be perfect to launch the back line. Finally i am loathe to add Kyran Bracken but with Healey seemingly off form there is no real other choice.\
Fly Half - Jonny Wilkinson (if fit), Charlie Hodgson (if fit), Alex King. Normally an automatic choice, but currently a worrying area for England in terms of injuries and if both JW and CH miss out i would opt for Paul Grayson and Ollie Barkley., with Alex King taking the starting slot for his attcking game (i would probably pick him over CH anyway, Grayson as the dependable replacement and Barkley in for experience
Centres - Will Grenwood, Henry Paul, Ollie Smith, Simon Abbott With Mike Tindall out, my starting pair would have to be WG and HP. This may seem harsh on Simon Abbott who seemed certain to replace Tindall, but the form Henry Paul is on he must be brought in, and he can also be used as a dependable back up kicker. Ollie Smith would, like Barkley be in for experience as he will almost certainly one day inherit the shirt from Will Greenwood.
Wings - Ben Cohen, James Simpson Daniel, Ben Gollings One of the best wings in World rugby, and to young pace men. For me JSD was the main player missing from the World Cup squad as there are few players as talented and creative as him. During his last two games for England against SA and Australia JSD touched the ball 4 times setting up 3 tries and is the key to england producing a new brand of running rugby.
Full Back - Josh Lewsey, Jason Robinson A hard choice, and many people may not agree with me, but i would go for Josh Lewsey, saving Jason Robinson as an impact sub. Lewsey knows full back play better and has the better angles when joining the line, and just imagine the damage a fresh billy whizz could do to a tired defence in the last 30 minutes of a game.
So my team would be
1. Trevor Woodman 2. Steve Thompson 3. Phil Vickery 4. Steve Borthwick 5. Ben Kay 6. Richard Hill 7. Neil Back 8. Lawrence Dallaglio 9. Andy Gomersall 10. Jonny Wilkinson (Alex King if not fit) 11. Ben Cohen 12. Will Greenwood 13. Henry Paul 14. James Simpson Daniel 15. Josh Lewsey
Subs: Jason Leonard, Mark Regan, Joe Worsley, Matt Dawson, Alex King (Charlie Hodgson/Paul Grayson), Simon Abbott, Jason Robinson
This team i feel still holds the strength and power of the World cup winning team, but now has a more attacking creative edge to it.
Woodward played it safe during the World Cup, but no as World Champions it is time for him to take a few more risks and select an England team that can truly set the World on fire.
Great review, but i disagree as to much of what you said, Woodward was selected to win the world cup and nothing else. There is no point selecting a risky team with the ability to look good, if you can pick a team that will win week in week out consistently, were not supposed to make the rest of the world enjoy watching us, as long as were winning what else matters, everyone else will hate it, and we will love it. Also i disagree with your england "dream team", it seems to old and most of them players would have retired before the next RWC, there is 4 years to create a new team, with a few same individuals as before, but the same team will have aged and become slower and weaker in that time, thats what keeps NZ so good, they constantly play newer players after the RWC to build strength in depth to their team and to find new talent that will only get better in the coming years. sorry to be so dismissive and critical, but thats my view.
Kezza88 22.06.2004 18:56
I don't know if the World Cup final (2003) was the best ever game of rugby in history, but England were deserving champions nonetheless. Bring on the Lions I say!
nutkins 01.04.2004 11:47
Got back a bit late, but late is better than never!
Excellent op, now that the debacle of the 6N has passed it's interesting to read this op which was written before it started.
I always believed we'd win the WC but the 6N this year was more of a worry, I expected more new faces but Clive stuck with the usual suspects for the majority, a shame in retrospect.
Dayglo looked to be the best candidate for captain, but good god has he blown it big time, the pressure coupled with the man's arrogance has lead to a decisive lack of leadership. He's upped his game and is one of the few WC winners who still deserve the shirt, but not as captain. I cannot put forward a suggestion for the armband as very few of the players in the frame now can guarantee regular starts. Ben Kay and Vickery look to have both lost it, and should be dropped now, Greenwood is living on reputation, Tindall has been found out, and Worsley oh my god! BALSHAW NEVER AGAIN! Of the remains only Lewsey seems to still have the endeavour needed to wear the rose.
Summer tour coming up, I can only hope a little more experimentation. Your right about Ollie Smith and Barkley has stepped up to the plate.
Players I'd like to see go on tour:
and on and on, the list of upcoming talent in England is embarassing, and so is Clive's refusal to use it.