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'It was amazing' - Clive Woodward on Martin Johnson's Irish red carpet faux-pas

The then-England captain annoyed many Irish fans by seemingly causing President Mary McAleese to walk on the grass.

Irish President Mary McAleese is introduced to the England team by Captain Martin Johnson after the England team lined up in the wrong position before the start of the match.
Irish President Mary McAleese is introduced to the England team by Captain Martin Johnson after the England team lined up in the wrong position before the start of the match.
Image: INPHO

CLIVE WOODWARD HAS recalled the infamous moment when the English rugby team supposedly forced then-Irish president Mary McAleese to walk on the grass as she greeted them prior to a 2003 Six Nations match.

The incident took place ahead of a pivotal game at Lansdowne Road, in which both sides were going for a Grand Slam, with England ultimately emerging with a convincing 42-6 victory.

The visitors’ conduct has drawn criticism since, with Donncha O’Callaghan later commenting that “our President shouldn’t have been put in that situation”.

Many at the time perceived the move as a deliberate attempt by the English team to gain a psychological advantage over their Irish counterparts.

However, speaking at the One Zero Conference in Dublin today, former England coach Clive Woodward dismissed suggestions that the incident was pre-planned, instead portraying it as an accidental faux-pas.

“I thought it was amazing,” Woodward said. “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 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. We knew the referee was coming in five minutes or whatever. Some Irish guy came smashing down our dressing room door down, saying ‘out, out, out.’

“I said ‘who are you?’ We eventually we got rid of him, and the referee came and we went out. So Johnno went out (to the pitch) and stood next to the same Irish guy. It was him that caused the problem.

So I was in the stand now, chuckling at all this, Johnno folds him arm (refusing to move) and Neil Back is next to him winding up Johnno, with this guy next to him, saying ‘don’t do it, Johnno. Don’t (move).’

“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, we genuinely didn’t know where to stand and stood where we thought was the right place to stand. I thought it was fantastic, but I liked the score-line better.”

Source: Mark Conroy/YouTube

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Paul Fennessy

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