SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: I always got on well with ex-France coach Bernard Laporte and once suggested our sides should train TOGETHER… it gave us confidence at the 2003 World Cup that their players didn’t have the bottle to train against us
- I met up with Bernard Laporte when we were rival international coaches
- France players rejected my idea of them training with my England side
- It helped give us confidence when we played them in the 2003 World Cup
I always got on very well with Bernard Laporte even though we were rival coaches when I was in charge of England and he was with France.
Before 2003, my only goal in life was to win the World Cup. My thought was that if my England team did not achieve this, then I desperately wanted another northern hemisphere side to.
In the north, we had to break the dominance of the southern hemisphere.
I realised that if we couldn’t lift the William Webb Ellis Cup with England, then France would be the other northern hemisphere team best placed to do so. It led me to come up with a simple idea.
I went to Paris one day on the Eurostar and met with Laporte. We had a long lunch and discussed a range of topics, but top of the list was my suggestion our two teams should train together on a regular basis.
I always got on well with Bernard Laporte and once suggested to him that our England and France teams should train together on a regular basis – something he seemed to come round to
Laporte asked French players who said no to the suggestion, something that gave our England side confidence when we played them in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup
My thinking was that doing so would benefit both our sides as they would be going head-to-head against real world-class opposition. Part of your training should always be harder and faster than matches. To do this you need world-class opposition. To me, it was sheer common sense.
I remember the look in Laporte’s face when I put forward the idea. It seemed to say: ‘Are you serious? I knew you were crazy, but I didn’t think you were this crazy!’
I genuinely thought it was a good idea and still do. Can you imagine the scrum sessions or the defensive sessions? You could have sold tickets to watch them!
They would have been brilliant if coached and refereed properly. The more wine we had at lunch, the more Laporte seemed to come round to the suggestion. It would have undermined the southern hemisphere, who were dominant at the time, to see the two top European teams working together.
Laporte said he would ask his players what they thought and the French squad came back with their report. Their verdict was a unanimous ‘Non!’
I think it was a big compliment to us as an England team that they didn’t want to go up against us but also a massive own goal from France. We ended up meeting them in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup. It was our best game knowing their players did not have the confidence or bottle to train against us and we went on to lift the trophy by beating Australia in the final.
Sometimes it is good to consult your team, but sometimes it is best to go with gut feeling. Bernard certainly missed a big opportunity over lunch that day.