England's World Cup Win 10 Years On: 6 Unsung Heroes
When you think back ten years ago to that famous night in Sydney, you think of the players’ heroics that won England the Rugby World Cup.
You think of Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal, Jason Robinson’s scorching try, Martin Johnson’s fearless leadership.
But these men were aided and abetted by a vast supporting cast, from fringe players who didn’t make the starting XV to the men and women in the background of the England setup under Sir Clive Woodward.
Together, they formed the most sophisticated coaching collective rugby had ever seen at the time.
Woodward identified all the areas in which England would need specialist expertise to push them on to the next level, and he went out and recruited them.
So, from the subs’ bench to the sports scientists, let’s herald, a decade on, the unsung heroes of that famous night.
Richard Smith QC
Why, you might ask, would a rugby team need a lawyer on the backroom staff? The answer is in the event they inadvertently field 16 players for part of a match and face the possibility of severe sanctions for it.
This was the situation England found themselves in during the 2003 World Cup after Dan Luger came on in their pool match with Samoa.
For 34 seconds, England had an extra man on the field of play until Luger, who made a tackle during that time, was yanked back off.
When it was uncovered after the match, England feared a points deduction which could have made their route through the knockout stages much rockier.
Luckily, Clive Woodward had the foresight before the tournament to appoint Richard Smith as the side’s legal counsel, having felt the rough end of disciplinary measures on previous visits to the Southern Hemisphere.
And the decision proved a shrewd one following the cock-up against Samoa.
The barrister went in to bat for England in the ensuing disciplinary hearing and used his legal expertise to ensure the worst. England were punished with was a fine, and their path to glory remained on the straight and narrow.
The world’s foremost sporting expert on visual motor performance was a key cog in the army of specialists Woodward assembled in his innovative drive to make England World Cup winners.
Calder was recruited to improve players’ reaction times to what was unfolding in front of them. It was a classic example of Woodward’s mantra of improving as many aspects of the set up as possible by just one percent with all those marginal gains adding up to the major improvement required to reach rugby’s summit.
Calder helped improve hooker Steve Thompson’s depth perception, which improved his throwing.
When his lineout throw went long to the tail at the start of the move that would end with Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal, it was thanks to his work with Calder that it was on target, as explained in Simon Austin’s blog on Calder.
Calder added a second consecutive Webb Ellis Cup to her CV four years later when she worked with her native South Africa, who beat England in the final. Wing Bryan Habana credits her as the most important person he has ever worked with, saying: "She's helped me put myself back on the map again and hopefully I won't stop working with her for a long time to come."
The ‘Fun Bus’ was not first choice in England’s front row by the time the 2003 tournament arrived, but he was a key figure in the squad, getting the best out of his colleagues and, ultimately, playing a vital role on the field in the final.
England’s dominant scrum should have seen them well on top of Australia, but referee Andre Watson saw things differently, and a string of penalties against the Red Rose front row meant Australia could claw their way back into the contest.
When Leonard was summoned from the bench at the start of extra time, he brought all his experience to bear on both the scrum and the South African official.
After replacing Phil Vickery, Leonard immediately set about winning round the whistle-happy Watson, as he recalled in The Independent in 2004.
“'Andre, you won't have a problem with me. I'll go forwards or backwards, but I won't go up and I won't go down'. He said, 'I won't have a problem with that at all, Jason'. And we gave no more penalties away after that.’"
The rest, as they say, is history, and Leonard’s part in it richly deserves as much praise as Wilko’s last-gasp swing of the boot.
Woodward knew that his England players needed to be fitter if they were to compete with the best Southern Hemisphere sides, and in Dave Reddin, he found a conditioning coach who could whip them into shape.
Not only did Reddin work on the physical conditioning of the squad, but the sports scientist also helped out on the psychological side, particularly with Jonny Wilkinson.
Reddin was, in fact, one of those to emerge with a blot on his copybook from the ‘16th man’ affair against Samoa, allegedly ignoring the instructions of fourth official Steve Walsh when sending on Dan Luger without hauling anyone off, and he copped a three-match ban for his troubles.
That misdemeanor aside, Reddin was the man who ensured England’s players were in shape mentally and physically to cope with the pressure of the tournament favourites tag and, in the final, to see it through in those nerve-shredding 20 minutes of extra time.
England’s video analyst, Biscombe’s role was to track each member of England’s squad both during and before the World Cup. When it came to selection, Woodward had to make some tough calls, notably those of leaving behind the likes of Austin Healey, Graham Rowntree and Simon Shaw.
It was his analysis of hours of video that enabled him to assess the ability of these players to fit in to the England blueprint.
Biscombe’s role, for example, uncovered too many flaws in Healey’s game in a warm-up match against France, reported Kevin Mitchell in The Guardian. The Leicester man, who could play wing, full-back or fly-half, was left behind as a result.
Biscombe’s work also extended to the opposition, which enabled Woodward to prepare tactics for Australia’s key players, nullifying their strengths and preying on their weaknesses.
Video analysis is a commonly used tool by all the best sides in the modern era, but no one perhaps used it as fruitfully as Woodward.
When England went down to a six-man scrum against New Zealand in the summer of 2003, some five months before they would lift the Webb Ellis Cup, they held out on their own five metre line.
The credit went to Woodward’s scrummaging guru Phil Keith-Roach, who had ensured England practised just such a scenario on the training field.
This was the sort of attention to detail no side could match at the time.
As well as preparing them for these doomsday scrummaging situations, Keith-Roach helped hone the English eight into the world’s best scrummaging unit and made them the cornerstone from which Woodward could execute his game plan.