TO lose to Ireland in Dublin is one thing, to do so at Fortress Twickenham quite another. Clive Woodward reacted as if somebody had broken into his home and made off with the family silver. England had been violated and retribution was at hand. "Professional sport is about the next game not the last one, '' Woodward said.
Nevertheless, he could not stop reflecting on last week's major setback while having very little to say about Saturday's match with Wales at Twickenham. "Wales will be in red, '' he said.
He might have added they will be in the red for England not only expects but demands a backlash. When told that Mike Ruddock, a non-runner who had won the race, had been appointed as Wales' new coach, Woodward replied: "Is that definite? It's an interesting choice.'' England have some choices to make today before naming their 22 tomorrow from a squad of 28 but Woodward will not be tempted to react to a shattering defeat by attacking the Red Rose root and branch. A little pruning could result in three or four changes with the return, if fit, of Danny Grewcock to the second row, Mike Tindall to centre and Julian White to the front row. Chris Jones may start in the back row instead of Joe Worsley. Jason Robinson or Josh Lewsey will move to full-back in place of Iain Balshaw, a switch that should have been made after the game against Scotland.
Sitting at Twickenham last Thursday, Woodward was at pains during his post-mortem to offer reasons rather than excuses. "We got what we deserved. I didn't think I'd see such a drop in standards.
We were so poor in every area. We'd built a fantastic record since 2002 and part of it came from how well we prepared. In the World Cup we did one hundred things one per cent better. Since then we've done one hundred things one per cent worse.
"It was a culmination of lots of little things. We've got a good enough squad to accommodate the loss of players, especially at home. We've been to some tough places and won without Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson. If we had to lose I'm glad it was sooner rather than later. It was a result waiting to happen.'' Post-World Cup England have been distracted by a dispute over match fees and intellectual property rights which is a touch ironic given their brainless display last week. There was also the impression that the endless celebrations, during which the players have been filling their boots, have taken a toll.
"None of us had a clue what was going to happen, " says Woodward. "We all got caught up in this, from me downwards. We didn't play that well in Rome or Edinburgh. In fact, we didn't play that well in the World Cup." And that was when their preparation hit 100 per cent. "How we lost to Ireland by only six points is interesting, '' Woodward said.
"For the players, coaches, management and the RFU this was a reality check and a wake-up call.'' Steve Hansen is fond of using exactly the same words, only far more frequently.
Wales' defeat to France at the Millennium Stadium may not have been as dispiriting as that inflicted by the Irish in Dublin but it provided further evidence that Hansen's judgement in selection is deeply flawed.
Against the French side that seems to have taken indolence to new heights ? they do just enough and no more thank you very much ? the Welsh pack, for the second match in a row, was marmalised. In theory, what we have next Saturday is an English lineout that has fallen apart and a Welsh scrum that can't scrummage.
Despite the fact that the front five were being put through a cider press for most of the afternoon, Wales came up with the dumbest play of the Championship.
Winning penalties close to the French line they opted not to tap and run but for a series of scrums. To the French forwards this was not so much meat and drink as an abattoir and a vineyard.
Worse, Wales employed their fullback Gareth Thomas on the blind side of the scrum, in the role of a pit prop. Perhaps it was this incredible tactical innovation that persuaded Ruddock, who a few months ago told the WRU that he would not be applying for Hansen's job and would concentrate on raising the Gwent Dragons, to change his mind. Had the whole selection procedure been a horse race there would have been a stewards' inquiry. As it is, at least the Welsh players now know who they will be working with at the conclusion of the Six Nations.
In the meantime, if Woodward thinks he has a few problems they are as nothing compared to Hansen's. Iestyn Harris, who looked so good against Scotland (that was before we knew just how poor Scotland are) has been replaced in the last two matches, refuelling speculation that he might return to rugby league. Tom Shanklin and Ceri Sweeney deserve more than bit parts but first Wales have to find a front row that can stand its ground.
Ireland's heroics against England have done Wales no favours whatsoever. The world champions will not need two alarm clocks to rise and shine. "I've spoken to every single player and there's a lot of frustration and anger, '' Woodward said.
"There's nothing wrong with a fall. It's a good team that gets up quickly again.'' He is not at all bothered about building for the future or by selecting senior citizens. "The way to develop a team is to win and we've got a great year coming up, '' Woodward added. "It's not about playing for England, it's about winning. We can still win this thing which I intend to do. Ireland did not add sparkle to the Six Nations. For us it was depressing. Those lucky enough to get to Twickenham next week will see a massive difference.''