While speaking at the One-Zero conference in the RDS this afternoon, Clive Woodward demystified one of the most divisive moments in the shared sporting history of Ireland and England.
oodward, who led England to a World Cup in Australia in 2003, was in conversation with Newstalk’s Joe Molloy, who broached an infamous spring afternoon in Lansdowne Road the same year.
It was the final game of the Six Nations, and the lead up to the contest in question could not have been better scripted.
With four wins apiece, England arrived in Dublin determined to deprive Ireland of a coveted Grand Slam, and securing a title that they had narrowly missed out on the year before.
With Woodward at the helm, England were a ferocious group, littered with the likes of Johnny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Jason Robinson.
As skipper, Johnson was the undisputed figurehead of a cold and ruthlessly efficient England team, so he was hardly a favourite of the Irish fans to begin with.
As the teams lined out on the pitch and awaited then president Mary McAleese for the pre-game ceremonials, an incident now committed to infamy occurred.
When it became clear that the England had stationed themselves on Ireland's side of the red carpet to meet the president, Johnson decided to stand his ground and instructed his team not to move an inch, forcing the Irish team to line up on the grass to the left of the English.
The backlash was both immediate and enduring, though Johnson has never batted an eyelid. Woodward explained that the entire incident was a result of an encounter with a still unidentified Irishman in the bowels of the stadium.
While Woodward still has no issue with Johnson’s behaviour, he maintained that there was nothing premeditated about what transpired and, in reality, the entire debacle was somewhat of a non-event.
“I thought it was amazing. That was a pressure moment and he handled it really well. All I know is that it was just one of those things that happened.
“When you play away in the Six Nations, it is quite a challenge. When England go to away it’s Scotland, followed by Ireland, in terms of people giving you grief and a hard time. There must be committees wondering how to really wind England up.
“It was 10 minutes before kick off, for a big game. Some Irish guy came smashing down our dressing room door down, saying ‘out, out, out.’
“I said ‘who are you?’ Eventually we got rid of him, the referee came. So Johnno went out and stood next to the same Irish guy.
“So I was in the stand now, chuckling at all this, and Neil Back is winding up Johnno, with this guy next to him, saying ‘don’t do it, Johnno. Don’t do it.’
“That’s it, and there was all this stuff happening. And it was one of those kind of comic book moments and there was nothing serious about it.
“And I promise you, when I read about it that it was planned, that’s absolute nonsense. We just went out and stood where we thought we were supposed to stand. I thought it was fantastic, but I liked the scoreline better.”
England went on to trounce Ireland by 42-6 and poignantly the No.8 wearing green was the late Anthony Foley, to whom Woodward paid a touching tribute.
“I just want to pass on my own personal wishes to his family and to everyone in Ireland. It was such a huge shock, and especially for us who were involved with England because Axel was an ever-present in the team I coached against.
“He was just an amazing gentleman. The was one of those guys that no matter win, lose or draw, he’d come and give you a hit on the back and ask you how you were doing. So my thoughts are with his family and it’s quite pertinent to be in Ireland today.”