Kiwis turn on Campbell the spin-doctor as Wills and the Welsh fail to lift the Lions

Bad blood boils over as spin operation backfires with second Test defeat in NZ
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The Independent Online

First coach Graham Henry rounded on the spin-doctor, describing him in public as "a person who doesn't know the game and doesn't have any passion for the game".

But this was as nothing to the invective from this morning's New Zealand papers, which used yesterday's series defeat to shred his already damaged reputation.

Mr Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, has become a local hate figure after repeated Lions claims that an illegal "spear" tackle intentionally maimed their captain, Brian O'Driscoll.

The response was damning. The normally sober Sunday Herald said the former Downing Street executive was no better than a 24-hour plumber, "down there in the bilges, amid the bobbing, raw sewage of this Lions tour". Yet, it continued, "the spin succeeded only in casting the Lions less as a rugby team, and more as a travelling circus, complete with clowns, monkeys, tightrope walkers, the bearded lady and a lion tamer who left his whip on the bus."

A rival Sunday paper, the Sunday Star-Times, accused him of ineptitude, over the attempts to blame the All Blacks' captain for O'Driscoll's injury. "Alastair Campbell may understand UK politics but he hasn't a clue about rugby," it concluded. "You just don't taunt the All Blacks. That's like teasing a grizzly out of hibernation. You'll end without a shoulder."

Mr Campbell has certainly taken a mauling. It is said that he wants to found a PR company on his return to London. But the Lions are unlikely to figure prominently on the prospectus.

He had already taken a big hit from the former Labour MP Bryan Gould, who accused him of using the spear tackle affair to distract from the Lions' weak showing.

"Alastair will go to any lengths to divert attention from the pathetic Lions' performance," Mr Gould, now Waikato University vice-chancellor said. "His only target is to get the critics off Clive Woodward's back."

Mr Campbell has been typically combatative from the off. And in a column of his own last week, he attacked the "NZ media as a 16th man" which was unable to report the tour objectively. This is much line with the comments he used to make about hostile papers in Britain, particularly the Daily Mail.

Old habits dies hard. Many believe that since leaving Downing Street in the wake of the David Kelly affair, he has missed the constant buzz of battling with journalists around the clock.

Whether or not this has helped the Lions is a different matter. Even his own players have at times seemed suspicious. Mr Campbell and his media team have been busy vetting players' newspaper columns. When Geordan Murphy wrote what a pleasure it was to relax in Auckland and have a "few beers", it was changed to what a pleasure it was to have a "stroll" around Auckland. So when the players go out for a night on the town, it is for a few strolls.

When O'Driscoll was introduced to Prince William in Wellington recently, the Irishman said: "Sorry about my appearance, I had a few beers last night," a comment out of Mr Campbell's control. "We're taking a battering out here," lamented Sir Clive. And that is something else that Campbell has been powerless to change.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Thompson


I may have made a couple of errors.

Woodward on the crushing First Test defeat

The NZ media is a 16th man, supporting the New Zealand side instead of covering the tour objectively.

Campbell on the local press

It was an horrendous act and Brian was lucky to get away with just a dislocated shoulder.

Woodward on the infamous 'spear' tackle

I reckon most Brits and Irish think that O'Driscoll was speared, and a lot more New Zealanders think it than admit to it.

Campbell on the 'spear' tackle

I believe it has been a successful trip... I have absolutely no regrets the way I have gone about this trip.

Woodward after yesterday's rout

The spin-doctors are working overtime to spread attention away from the game. It's disappointing.

Graham Henry, New Zealand coach, on the 'spear' tackle

He'll go to any lengths to divert attention from the pathetic Lions performance.

Bryan Gould, former Labour MP, on Campbell

All this media attention is actually trying to blow over the fact that they were totally outplayed.

Lions legend JPR Williams

They call it polishing the turd ... Campbell got down there in the bilges, amid the bobbing, raw sewage of this Lions tour.

Auckland's 'Sunday Herald' newpaper on yesterday's defeat