As a former England international, Woodward grew up in the era before rugby became a professional game. He was also a successful businessman, working for Xerox, then running his own computer leasing company for seven years until his appointment as the first professional England rugby coach in 1997. He feels this experience was vital in taking the sport out of the amateur era, particularly with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) used to working with a part-time coach, usually burdened by external responsibilities.
“I had 18 years in business before becoming England coach, so I was used to board meetings,” he says. “Managing upwards is straightforward. You simply have to take them with you. I made it clear
when I was presenting to the board: ‘I’m not asking for permission. I’m telling you what I’m doing.”
This uncompromising style led to clashes with RFU bosses, from discord over the standard of accommodation on overseas tours to the size of his World Cup backroom staff. Despite his 2003 victory, he resigned a year later in a dispute over how England prepared for matches, saying: “I wanted more and we have ended up with less.”
Woodward is happy to test any idea that might help his end goal. Rugby commentator Eddie Butler described him as “the nutty professor, everything bubbling and boiling away strictly in accordance with his calculations”.
The man himself prefers the term ‘critical non-essentials’, which involves a raft of small improvements that can set elite teams apart from their rivals.