Former Preston Grasshoppers star and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post
I’ve read Woodward’s autobiography and those of a number of his World Cup-winning squad.
It is clear that he was big on buzzwords, phrases and acronyms which he used to get his point across to his players about improvement and strategy.
One acronym used, has since permeated its way throughout rugby: T-CUP – Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.
It is clear that getting the big decisions consistently right was a continual area of focus during Woodward’s tenure with England, even more so after the disappointing World Cup campaign of 1999.
T-CUP was evident in everything Woodward’s England did post 1999.
And if you want the clearest example of how important this was to his team’s psyche, then look no further than the build-up to the winning drop-goal in the 2003 World Cup Final. This was pure T-CUP.
I am sure all England fans recall the sequence. Australia kicked a match-levelling penalty with less than two minutes of extra-time left in the game.
At that point the England players got together and discussed exactly what was to happen next – where the re-start kick off would go, what the kick chase should be, what outcome they wanted.
They kicked long to a “tired” player but it was their own fresh replacements who led the chase to put huge “kick pressure” on the Australian recipient.
The aim was that England would then get a line-out in the Australian half. The resulting line-out would be thrown to the tail, be quickly taken off the top to allow an England back to carry the ball quickly over the gain line.
A couple more carries in the centre of the field, before holding the Australian chase to give Jonny Wilkinson the maximum amount of time to take the winning kick. Of course the outcome was successful, the strategy was delivered at each stage and each player knew what the team was going to do.
The whole sequence took 90 seconds but the planning for it was months in the making.
All 15 players on the pitch at the time were focused on their next job. It was their biggest game – this was its biggest moment – but T-CUP came from them all.
On Saturday I watched two games where both home teams allowed 10-point leads to slip.
At Twickenham, England imploded once more during a second half.
The drop off in performance during the second 40 minutes of games has become a regular feature of their World Cup preparations to date.
The decision not to go for a score-levelling penalty against Wales was fine if all players knew with clarity why that decision was made and what was to happen next.
Having re-watched what happened, it is clear from the body language that not all of the players were in agreement with the decision made and that showed in what happened next.
That England then threw the line-out to the front – and thus made the defensive side’s job that much easier – and showed a clear lack of individual and collective T-CUP.
On Saturday afternoon at Lightfoot Green, Preston Grasshoppers led by 10 points at 17-7 with only five minutes left on the clock against Caldy.
With three tries already under their belts, Hoppers should have been looking to secure the win and a four-try bonus point.
Even when the opposition scored to make the game 17-14 with only two minutes left, Hoppers from the resulting re-start still got themselves to within sight of the visitors’ try-line.
At that stage they didn’t even need to score a try but merely play out the clock and take the win.
However, several moments of individual indiscipline resulted in a turnover in possession that allowed the visitors to go the length for a winning score of their own.
As with England, a clear lack of individual and collective T-CUP.
To concede those two late tries was frustrating for the supporters, but I hope there was real anger in the home dressing room – and not just from the coaches.
Figuratively speaking, I hope some “Teacups” of a different sort were getting the treatment on Saturday afternoon in the Hoppers’ dressing room.
It was another close defeat to add to the multitude of narrow losses experienced over the last 12 months. The Hoppers side on Saturday included enough players with 50, 75 or 100-plus National League appearances behind them to know how the game works. More collective leadership needs to come from those players.
But T-CUP needs to come from them all.