Mention Cheltenham College and my first thought is the annual visit by Gloucestershire’s cricketers. I first went there in 1976 and it remains a highlight of the summer.
The school, founded in 1841, has a proud sporting tradition, with Gloucestershire having played there since 1872. Moreover, it is one of four original rugby playing schools, alongside Durham, Sherborne and, of course, Rugby. For good measure, it now has a 2003 World Cup winner helping to coach the first XV.
Trevor Woodman took up his new role, which he combines with that of a sport ambassador, at the start of the current term. It’s a far cry from the intensity of the international stage as a player or the cut and thrust of the Premiership where he was on the back room staff at Wasps until the end of last season.
“My personal situation brought me back to Cheltenham” said Woodman, “I’ve always had a place here and while I was at Wasps I commuted for about 15 months. There was a lot of movement at Gloucester in the summer and I expressed an interest in going there but you work with the hand that you are dealt. Cheltenham College was an option and I’m enjoying doing something completely different.”
Woodman has committed to two years with the school, a period that covers his daughter’s time in the Sixth Form. It would have to take what he called an “incredibly special opportunity” to change his plans.
“I’m trying to spread myself across the teams from the 13’s to the first team, but mainly the first team” Woodman went on. “I’m learning a lot about the system and how an independent school operates. The Head of Rugby Tom Richardson is new to it over the last couple of years, but it’s still his team. I can’t overstep the mark and with limited time you cannot do big forward sessions. Professional players can do an extra half an hour but the boys have other lessons to go to.”
The learning process has included turning up to games in a tweed jacket and being mindful of parents on the touchline when considering any outbursts at referees, but Woodman insists some facets of the game remain the same.
“The top players make the same mistakes as the kids I coach” he joked. “The difference is you accept it
from schoolboys because they are not being paid. There are some schools putting money behind their rugby in terms of scholarships like Radley and Monmouth, and we’ve beaten Radley for the first time in a few years earlier this term. All we try instill into them is to not make the same mistakes. It’s alright working them hard but they have to believe in themselves. In the first few games we conceded points in the first 15 minutes because there was no belief that they were going to win. It’s about changing that culture from the bottom.”
Woodman is clearly enjoying having a greater influence in a more relaxed environment. There isn’t the pressure there was at Wasps, especially with what was happening off the field during his time at Adams Park. Surviving relegation is no longer uppermost in his mind, but he sees the hunger that drove him and the rest of the 2003 squad within the group Stuart Lancaster has now brought together.
After wins over Australia and Argentina, they face the All Blacks in the final autumn international on Saturday.
“No-one was certain of their position in ’03 and that is what Lancaster has tried to create over the last 18 months” said Woodman. “He’s opened the door to quite a few people and Sir Clive Woodward was the same but Stuart will know in his head who he wants. At loose head you have Corbisiero and Vunipola.
“Corbs” was ahead after the Lions but he’s been injured. You want them both fully fit competing for that jersey. It’s a competitive environment and there will be a lot of people working hard to get into that team.”
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