By Mitch Phillips
YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Clive Woodward’s position as England’s only Rugby World Cup-winning coach could be about to disappear in a week but he could not be happier and said he was in awe of the team and their coaches after Saturday’s 19-7 semi-final win over New Zealand.
Woodward, who led England to glory in 2003, has been tipping a second success all tournament but, in his Mail on Sunday column, he said even he was surprised by their sustained excellence.
“England played with great tempo. They were massively powerful, disciplined, clever, indomitable, unmoveable — everything as a fan you’d want them to be,” he said.
“There was a beautiful variety to their game that New Zealand couldn’t cope with. England absolutely battered the All Blacks, the winning margin could, perhaps should, have been much greater.”
Woodward said that captain Owen Farrell and man of the match lock Maro Itoje particularly stood out in a wonderful team display.
“Farrell is why I have always believed England can take this World Cup. He is a winner, it’s in his DNA, he’s spent his career collecting silverware with Saracens. He knows how to deliver on the day,” Woodward said.
“Then we had the remarkable Itoje. For me he has been biding his time in this tournament. He knew the mighty summits that needed to be climbed towards the end and didn’t waste too much energy in the foothills.
“Perfectly efficient and effective in the pool games, he has won enough trophies with Sarries to know it’s a different ball game come the knock-out stages. Against Australia he was excellent, on Saturday he was off the scale against two of the world’s great locks in Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.
“Huge physicality, invaluable steals on the floor, immovable at the ruck, marauding legally through various mauls, a thorough 24-carat nuisance from start to finish.”
Woodward also praised England’s tackling technique, as they have yet to pick up a yellow or red card – though Henry Slade was close to one on Saturday.
“They have taken the high hit to the torso and chest completely out of their repertoire because it is too risky in terms of conceding penalties and cards,” he said.
“Instead, scores of crunching tackles and double tackles around the legs, thighs and midriff come raining in. More than any other team at the World Cup they have recognised the reality of the change of law and zero tolerance of hits anywhere near the head. Rugby can’t go backwards after this, the world can see fair tackling is possible.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)