Jonathan Davies: Two notes of discord in the harmony

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The Independent Online

You cannot pick a Lions squad without breaking hearts but, in general, Sir Clive Woodward's selection of the 44-strong party for New Zealand has not caused too much of an uproar.

You cannot pick a Lions squad without breaking hearts but, in general, Sir Clive Woodward's selection of the 44-strong party for New Zealand has not caused too much of an uproar.

Unsurprisingly, the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, has started the stirring war by commenting on the large contingent of England players chosen at the expense of the Celts and forecasting friction because of it. Henry knew all about friction when he led the Lions in Australia four years ago; there was a lot of backbiting on that tour, particularly from the English contingent.

With his vast back-up of coaches coming from all four nations, including the Irish coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, and the Welsh boss, Mike Ruddock, Woodward has given himself far more chance of maintaining one big happy family. It's a clever move, because they will need togetherness to survive. In New Zealand everybody will be getting at them, including the taxi drivers and the waiters.

But there are one or two controversial areas in the squad, and full-back is one of them. All of the contenders in the party are wingers who have turned into full-backs.

I know it is fashionable these days to think of them all as back-three players, but full-back is a specialised role and the best we have at the moment is Kevin Morgan, who made an excellent comeback in the Six Nations. His angles of running and support play were sensational, and he is very unlucky not to go.

Hooker is another spot in which Six Nations form has gone out of the window. Mefin Davies and Robin McBryde both deserved places on current form.

Brent Cockbain, Colin Charvis and Simon Easterby are among the others who can count themselves unlucky, but I have said all along that Woodward will have his own ideas and that he will have already calculated what is needed.

And what is needed is a pack able to establish a platform in the set-piece. If they let New Zealand get on the front foot they are in for a torrid time, so he has gone for strength and physique.

England might not have been performing all that well, but they still possess physically the biggest side in the northern hemisphere, and that is why there are so many of them in the squad.

Neither was Woodward going to leave himself short of experience, and the men who brought the World Cup home from Down Under are well represented. There has been some moaning at the choice of Matt Dawson, but he will take plenty of spirit, and at the very least will push the others.

Neil Back at 36 is another selection to be questioned, but he has been doing an immense job for Leicester. Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill are also up for it, and it was a certainty that Woodward would want their services. At the moment, Martin Corry, Michael Owen and Martyn Williams are the top back-row men, but there is a long way to go.

I felt that Woodward should have included Jonny Wilkinson in his 44. Wilkinson has still to prove his fitness, but it was a gamble worth taking. He still may go, but the coach has insisted that he proves he has made a full recovery from injury and shown some of his old form in club matches over the next few weeks. He has offered the same carrot to Mike Tindall and Phil Vickery, but they are less likely to be able to take advantage.

If Wilkinson can pass the test he will undoubtedly be worth taking. Stephen Jones has outstanding claims for the outside-half position whether the England man goes or not, but a fit and upbeat Wilkinson is bound to be a plus. Perhaps he can be tried out in the Lions game against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium on 23 May, which is two days before they depart for New Zealand.

With six provincial games to play in New Zealand before the First Test, that means seven games for Woodward and his coaches to experiment with individuals and combinations before he has to pick his Test team. Those matches will therefore have an increased intensity while everyone tries to make their claim.

The only prediction that I will make is that Michael Owen will make the biggest impact for the Lions. To succeed out there will require brawn and brains, and he has all that and more.

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