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SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: As England prepare to debrief after their painful World Cup final defeat by South Africa, here's what they must work on leading up to 2023 (when it will be even tougher)

Eddie Jones' team were the favourites but were well beaten by the SpringboksSir Clive Woodward has picked out three key areas where things went wrong England lost 32-12 to South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final in Japan

Since I got back from Japan, people have been asking one question: what happened to England in the final?

The taxi driver, in my local coffee shop, even the early birds at Lambourne Golf Club where I play at dawn every Saturday. The whole country, like me, was disappointed, so what did happen against South Africa?

England need to debrief. They haven’t done that yet and it will fester both privately and publicly until they do. It needs to be brutally honest because they had the players to win that match. I have thought about it a lot and have a few points to make.

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: As England prepare to debrief after their painful World Cup final defeat by South Africa, here's what they must work on leading up to 2023 (when it will be even tougher)

England's players look on following their devastating World Cup final defeat to South Africa


You do not need to be an international coach or player to see the complete lack of power in the scrum as the main reason for England’s under-performance. But why did this happen?

I defer to my scrummaging guru with England, Phil Keith-Roach, in all things when it comes to scrummaging. He is the most knowledgeable person in that area and was my scrum coach in 2003.

Phil had been warning me for a long time that England were going down the wrong route at scrum time in placing too much emphasis on ball-handling props at the expense of hardcore scrummaging props.

He had looked at the World Cup draw and concluded that if England were going to be champions they would have to beat South Africa. That worried him.

He told me the Boks would pick three complete international front rows, with the six props all being the most powerful scrummaging props available. He was right. Furthermore, they backed that up by picking four world-class locks, all of them powerful scrummagers.

The England scrum is pushed back during the final at International Stadium Yokohama

Phil was invited to make his views known to Eddie but somehow his message didn’t get through. England were a long way down the route of basing their pack on all-singing, all-dancing running props — Kyle Sinckler, Ellis Genge and Mako Vunipola.

The hardcore scrummagers —particularly Harry Williams and Nick Schonert — gradually disappeared from the equation.

England then made the tactical decision to go with five props not six, believing Joe Marler could cover both tighthead and loosehead. On top of that came key injuries.

Dylan Hartley was an immensely strong scrummaging hooker whose value as a player was constantly underestimated and when he failed to recover from his knee injury that changed the balance and scrummaging ability significantly. Meanwhile, Mako had been injured all summer and was short of match fitness. He looked fast enough around the park but pure scrummaging strength only comes after a run of games.

It was a precarious situation for England accentuated by taking just five props.

Dylan Hartley's knee injury kept him at home and his absence hit the England scrum hard

Look at that 31 now and the minimal roles played by Rory McConnochie, Jack Nowell and Joe Cokanasiga and you wonder why at least one of those was not sacrificed for the more pressing need of another frontline tighthead prop.

England got this badly wrong and they need to have a rethink with their front-row strategy.

Against many teams in the world you can get away with it and your mobile props look terrific running around but against a team like South Africa you will get found out.

Regardless of him being injured after a couple of minutes, the Boks had already targeted Sinckler, who they believe is a moderate scrummager. He might yet develop into a much stronger scrummaging unit but he is not the complete package yet.

Make no mistake, it is going to be much more difficult in 2023. Expect a backlash from new, hungrier coaching teams led by New Zealand and Australia.

France will be fully pumped, the Pumas should be better, Wales will be strong, Japan will get better and better. France 2023 will be at a different level and lessons from 2019 must not be ignored by Eddie Jones and his team, however painful they may be.

England it badly wrong and they need to have a rethink with their front-row strategy


Within a World Cup-winning squad you need your state of mind and focus to go to new levels, not only in the team, but within the coaching staff as well.

That mindset came from the sidelines, from Lawrence Dallaglio in the ITV studio, from Martin Johnson when we met up for a chat for Sportsmail.

As always they filled me with a mixture of fear and excitement, but they also both instinctively knew it would need a massive effort to win. The week of the final seemed far too calm, as though the cup was already won.

Eddie was really passionate ahead of the Australia quarter-final. Defence coach John Mitchell showed the correct mindset ahead of the New Zealand game.

Eddie Jones looks on as England warmed up prior to the final against South Africa

I was confident England were going to turn up in both those matches with the correct mindset. But before South Africa it seemed very subdued.

You could feel it, so could Dallaglio and Johnson. We were all worried. ‘I hope they know what is coming at them on Saturday,’ Johnno kept saying to me.

Remember, all teams dislike England. That’s fine but you have to match that intensity.

George Gregan, Aussie captain in 2003, famously said: ‘I don’t care who wins the World Cup as long as it’s not England.’

Having Dallaglio or Johnson involved in the final week could have guarded against complacency.

England's players line up moments before the national anthem was played in Yokohama


World Cup weeks are simple: nothing changes and so it is important you get all the details right, the one per centers as I call them. In Japan, I could see lots of one per centers going the other way. Add them all up and they matter in a game of fine margins.

Some examples: Joe Marler and Dan Cole were put up at the England press conference two days before the final and I couldn’t believe the Laurel and Hardy routine. It made me very uneasy.

It suggested England were not in the right headspace for such a big game. And, as it turned out, these two played pivotal roles in the outcome. 

Dan Cole (left) and Joe Marler (right) share a hug during the pre-match press conference 

Then the plans for a victory parade. In 2003 the possibility of a parade never entered our minds. It was organised after we won.

England’s late arrival at the ground might have had some effect too. How on earth can you arrive late for the biggest game of your lives?

Watching the coin toss, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi was composed, while Owen Farrell, having rushed off the bus, seemed in a state of confusion. It was quite revealing given the error-strewn start England made.

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