Jonathan Davies: Memo to Sir Clive - tactics now, personnel later

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There has been a lot of premature team-picking in the past week or two for a Lions tour that does not start for another six months. Bookmakers are even offering odds about who is going to be captain.

I'm not saying the matter hasn't crossed my mind, but I am prepared to wait until after the Six Nations before thinking about who should be entrusted with the task of taking on the All Blacks.

Four of my fellow pundits have put forward their team and did not include one Welshman. It caused an outcry among some of my countrymen, but my advice is not to rise to the bait. There's plenty of time - and plenty of other things to be worried about.

We don't normally get as excited about the Lions this early, but the high-profile presence on the scene of the Lions coach, Sir Clive Woodward, has kept the subject dominating the sports pages.

No World Cup winner has ever been put in charge of the Lions before, so I suppose we could have expected the interest to be greater than usual but, at this stage, it's more about preparation than about players.

No one is more meticulous than Woodward, and his plans will be well advanced. He has spent time with all the Six Nations camps and has already pieced together a large backroom staff, including the former New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell. All of this might appear a bit gimmicky, but I am sure he is not neglecting any aspect of the tour. Two areas, particularly, demand his most urgent attention.

He is ahead of the game in the vital negotiations about the refereeing situation. Too many trips Down Under have been ruined by different interpretation of the laws. Woodward's view is that if there's going to be a row about referees we may as well have it now.

He has been in touch with his counterpart, Graham Henry, and favours having a three-strong panel of leading refs to handle the three Tests. He's happy for one to be from New Zealand, Paddy O'Brien for example, one from the British Isles and one from a neutral country. Between them they could sort out the discrepancies between interpretations.

I would be happy if they had one referee handling all three, with the other two on the line. No matter where he came from, I am sure you'd get consistency, which is what we want. Woodward is taking David McHugh as refereeing advisor. Maybe he should take advice from a southern-hemisphere official as well, to be on the safe side.

The other issue that should be worrying the Lions boss is how his attack is going to get past the drift defence of the All Blacks. After New Zealand's autumn tour over here, some are saying that their front five are not going to be a big worry to the Lions. I'm sure it will be different out there, and I don't think we can bank on getting much dominance up front.

Even if we did, we would still have the problem of getting through their defence. They drift so expertly, and use the touchline as an extra defender so well, that it is almost impossible to get outside. It's a problem, and it will take a lot of tactical thinking from the Lions to find a way through.

It would be a full-time job for an attacking coach but, although he has plenty of top coaching ability around him to call on, Woodward doesn't have a specialist in that department, so I presume he's going to do it himself.

The way to pierce the drift defence is to hold it up by running at the inside shoulder and trying to cut an angle through the line. It's very difficult to achieve when a team are as well-drilled as the All Blacks, and it needs the attackers to be spot-on with their running and passing.

I believe it is the most important preparation work the Lions are faced with, and working out which players are going to be best at doing the job is a decision Woodward can leave until much, much later.