Clive Woodward recalls famous 2003 battle of red carpet

Former England rugby coach among stars at One-Zero Sport Tech convention in Dublin

The story is a familiar one. England are in the Lansdowne Road dressing room having a talk before their match against Ireland in the 2003 Six Nations Championship.

There’s banging on the door. They open it and an Irish man is demanding that they hurry it up. The English management tell him in no uncertain terms to go away.

Minutes later England are on the pitch and standing on the wrong side and on the presidential red carpet. The same man who had banged the door is berating Martin Johnson, telling him to move along.

Martin is glaring at him, arms folded and Neil Back, the England openside flanker, is in his captain's ear.


“Don’t move Jonno. Don’t move Jonno,” says Back. Jonno doesn’t budge and the “snub” controversy is born.

Clive Woodward, the then England coach, is telling the story at the One-Zero Sport Tech convention in Dublin and is interrupted. "What did you think of that incident?" he is asked, the questioner maybe assuming the answer would deal with belligerence or protocol and the possibility that Johnson insulted the Irish president Mary McAleese.

“I thought that was fantastic. Amazing,” says Woodward. “That was a pressure moment and he handled it brilliantly.”

Mindset. If one word resonated around Woodward, Shane Lowry or John Kavanagh it was mindset. And at the highest level it is different. It is selfish, it is mean and it is other-worldly. Nothing would have moved the English captain because at the point he was told to move it became a challenge.

If Woodward was detailed, Kavanagh, the MMA coach of Conor McGregor, was obsessed and Lance Armstrong, well he wasn't there.

“Are you disappointed Lance couldn’t make it,” a delegate called Diarmuid was asked.

“Ah yeah,” he says. “I came for the hanging. Sure I like a good lynching as much as anyone.” Moderator Ewan MacKenna was going to hand Lance a mirror and ask him what he saw.

Lance was the PT Barnum Human Freaks and The American Museum part of the One-Zero bill. Roll up, roll up, and see the man with a neck as thick as a redwood.

The serial drugs cheat, added one delegate, made his most ethical gesture for some time by not inflicting his tetchy personality on the delegates. What next, Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff addressing a convention on prudential banking?

But Lance, from what we know of him, has the same obsessed and detailed gene that both Woodward and Kavanagh possess and he magically arrived to the stage midway through the MMA coach’s interview.

In mid-sentence Kavanagh spotted a text lighting up and began to laugh. “Sorry,” he says to the audience. “I just saw that tweet coming up ‘screw Lance the asshole’.”

Perhaps more McGregor than Kavanagh, the mechanical engineer spoke of fighting in a complex, intelligent way, describing a bout as “the physical problems in dealing with another human being”.

He somehow removed the blood from the blood sport, adding that the octagon “is part sport, part entertainment. Conor has been unusually good at blending the two. MMA is in a golden period. That is not going to last forever.”

So what was One-Zero? A money-making talking shop with big names allowing us a glimpse of their worlds? A convention centre for professionals in the industry to pass around their business cards? A bunch of people networking and discussing the future of sport; a day-long piece of jaw- jaw, where the guest speakers tell anecdotes and we all leave believing we know them better?

Whatever it was, it largely worked. From golfer Lowry and his affable everyman personality through the cerebral Kavanagh and the focused Woodward to the Skins sportswear founder Jamie Fuller, up to the large dead space where Lance should have shifted nervously in his chair considering his reflection.

Convincing us that e-sport, which appeared to be about online games and therefore virtual sport, was actual sport was as hard a sell as they come. Media, digital and investment was the business end, but it meant something for everyone.

Kavanagh spoke about the obsession of fighting and McGregor’s lonely journey to the top. “In the early years Conor was earning €1500 a year, so he didn’t stick with it for the money. But there is no skipping those first 10 years and then when the opportunity comes you have to take it like Conor did,” he said.

“Lombardi time,” explained Woodward, was an agreed 10 minutes early for every meeting. “I can never recall myself being late for anything ever. You set incredible standards and a culture begins to grow,” he said.

Organisers say 600 tickets were sold, the cheapest €175. Too expensive by €100 and not at all a bad day out.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times