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Woodward resigns as England coach

Woodward became a national hero after England's World Cup victory

LONDON, England -- England's World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward is quitting the job after seven years in charge.

Woodward, who masterminded England's 20-17 victory over hosts Australia in last year's World Cup final, met with English Rugby Football Union chief executive Francis Baron on Wednesday to discuss speculation that he was planning an unprecedented move into football.

He told reporters outside the RFU's Twickenham headquarters later in the day that he was stepping down, adding that he would explain his reasons on Thursday.

"I will be handing in my resignation," he said. "I will talk more about it at Thursday's press conference."

It was a second major blow for England in two days following the decision of team captain Lawrence Dallaglio to retire from international rugby.

Woodward, who wanted to play for top-flight club Everton as a boy, is reportedly keen to get fast-tracked into a role with the England football team before making a bid to succeed Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager after the 2006 World Cup.

Appointed as England's first full-time rugby coach in September 1997, Woodward revolutionised the country's approach to the international game with his professionalism, meticulous methods and motivational skills.

He developed an England team that stayed unbeaten for three years against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa -- the heavyweights of southern hemisphere rugby -- and ended a run of Six Nations disappointment with a rare grand slam in 2003.

Woodward signed a new contract last year to lead England at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France and has also been appointed coach for next year's British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

However, his relationship with the RFU is believed to have soured over the release of England players from their clubs to prepare for internationals, and the limit on matches to be played each season.

The former England and British Lions centre, felt the 16 release days and 32-match seasonal limit, as proposed by the RFU's elite player scheme, were inadequate.

He has always been passionate about football and is a close friend of Premier League Southampton's chairman Rupert Lowe.

"I'm a Chelsea fan. My whole background is in football," Woodward said in an interview with the September issue of Business Life magazine.

"I love football and I go to as many games as I possibly can. I never had that passion for rugby I have for football. I never got into rugby in the same way.

"I was forced into playing rugby, because that's the only game the school (in North Wales) played. And I hated it. I ran away a couple of times because of football. I didn't mind being at boarding school. I just hated not playing football."

The 48-year-old is due to lead England in their November internationals against South Africa, Australia and Canada.

Contenders to replace him include former England flyhalf and Newcastle supremo Rob Andrew, ex-England flanker and former Bath head coach Andy Robinson and Gloucester rugby director Nigel Melville, a former England scrumhalf.

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