Jonathan Davies: Sir Clive can be welcomed in Wales again

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The Independent Online

News that Clive Woodward will be supporting Wales this autumn has sent an indignant shiver down some Welsh spines, but everyone has to realise that the arch-Englishman has a completely new role in life as coach to the Lions for their tour of New Zealand next year.

News that Clive Woodward will be supporting Wales this autumn has sent an indignant shiver down some Welsh spines, but everyone has to realise that the arch-Englishman has a completely new role in life as coach to the Lions for their tour of New Zealand next year.

There is a true professional at work here, and it is typical of his meticulous approach that he should want to spend a week in the Welsh camp as they prepare to meet New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on 20 November. The fact that he's even promised to wear a Welsh scarf at the match confirms how quickly times, and his priorities, have changed.

Mind you, there is a sub-plot involved. The personal rivalry between Woodward and the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, will intensify over the next year, and the mind games have already started. Woodward was miffed when Henry, then Welsh coach, was appointed instead of him to lead the Lions in Australia in 2001. The Lions lost, and Woodward has been recently pointing out the mistakes Henry made. That Woodward is now leading the Lions and Henry is in charge of the opposition adds a delicious edge to what is going to be a mammoth confrontation.

But there's much more than personal score-settling going on. When Woodward announced his resignation from England, he had the intention of staying on for the autumn internationals. When the Rugby Football Union insisted he went immediately, many suggested he should also forego his Lions appointment.

That was a ridiculous attitude. He is the best man for the job by miles, and the fact that he is not involved with England makes him a much better Lions boss. He can now concentrate completely on the Lions and maintain an open mind about selection. When coaches have to combine the job with running a national team there are bound to be conflicts of loyalty.

Now he can divide his time between all four countries, talk to coaches and players and build up his knowledge of the contenders for places in the Lions party, in which character can often be as important as ability.

He has also been criticised for planning to take two coaching set-ups, one for the Test matches and the other for the midweek games. This is an excellent idea. One of the complaints about Henry's Lions was that the midweek squad were treated like second-class citizens. By taking two coaching teams, Woodward will ensure that every player feels part of the unit and will be considered for selection. Typically, Woodward has ensured he is taking the best coaches with him. He is the head honcho, but he doesn't neglect to surround himself with talent.

When he joins up with Wales in November he will be taking his first opportunity to familiarise himself with players and their preparation. I'm sure that the Welsh coach, Mike Ruddock, will benefit from Woodward's experience of playing against the All Blacks, but the Lions coach will be learning, too.

It will be his intention over the next few months to begin his motivation and preparation. Contenders for his squad will have plenty of notice of what will be expected of them when they report for Lions duty so they can prepare gradually.

What he doesn't want them to do is walk into a physical and mental overload and be flogged in training after a long, hard season. That's another lesson he has learned from Henry's mistakes; not to make it a chore. He wants them to enjoy the experience and be in a relaxed atmosphere.

It's been said that players who don't play for their countries this season shouldn't be considered for the Lions. That's another nonsense. There are many reasons to opt out of playing for your country. Trying to satisfy club and country is a terrific strain, especially later in your career. To say Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Scott Quinnell and Rob Howley should be ignored is daft, and no one will stop Woodward taking his best squad.

Even before the international season starts, you can almost feel the motivation that is driving Woodward. What's left after winning the World Cup? Leading the Lions to a series victory in New Zealand would be a fitting ending to this chapter of his rugby career.

It has only happened once - to Carwyn James in 1971. Oddly enough, he wasn't coach of his country, either.

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