Lions concept still has value, says Woodward

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The Independent Online

Sir Clive Woodward was greeted with applause from the smattering of Lions supporters in the arrivals hall, most of whom had just stepped off flights from New Zealand. It was a different welcome to the last time Woodward returned from the southern hemisphere, in 2003, when thousands gathered to greet England's World Cup-winners.

Woodward has been criticised for his tactics, his selection and his approach to the tour, which cost around £10m and included 51 players and 29 back-room staff. But he described as an "over-reaction" any suggestion that the Lions cannot survive in the professional era.

"The Lions is different in the professional age. It is almost a romantic team rather than a built-up team," Woodward said. "New Zealand are a very good team and it is difficult to bring together four sides very quickly. It makes it clear a fully professional team will always beat 15 individuals when you only have that amount of preparation time. But when you get the chance you should always go and do it. The upsides outweigh the downsides."

Questions have been raised about the usefulness of a touring side every four years, but Sir Clive said: "I still think the Lions is a great concept. The supporters over there were just fantastic. They have all had a great trip and hopefully they will do again in South Africa in four years' time."

Despite the failure of his charges when it really mattered - in the Tests - Woodwardhad no regrets.

"You go for results and we didn't win so it wasn't successful," he said. "But in terms of all the players, the management and coaching side it has been wonderful. But it is a tough place to go, the toughest of all three [Lions] journeys [New Zealand, Australia and South Africa]. It was a very tough tour and the better team won. Everyone enjoyed it but the Test matches were very tough."

He added: "It is good to be home now and I am looking forward to the cricket and golf."

Woodward will start work as Southampton's technical director after a brief holiday. The midweek coach, Ian McGeechan, who returns to take over as Wasps' director of rugby, echoed Woodward's words.

This was the Scot's sixth Lions tour, twice as a player, three times as a head coach and this time as a member of Woodward's party. His reputation remained intact as he guided his side to victory in every provincial game they played.

"The [Lions] concept is still as strong," McGeechan said. "There is no other concept like this at all and it should be continued."

The squad's media consultant, Alastair Campbell, returned to yet another row over spin. He stands accused of misrepresenting Gavin Henson after his omission from the first Test squad by staging a photograph designed to cast Woodward in a favourable light.

Campbell arranged for a photographer to snap Henson and Woodward together in conversation, a public relations ploy apparently designed to play down rumours of discord inside the Lions camp and defuse the growing rancour over his non-selection.

But minutes before Campbell walked through arrivals, Henson said he had not been informed of the Lions' plans - directly contradicting Campbell.

"I didn't know nothing about the photo," Henson said. "I haven't seen it yet but I didn't know what it was about."

Campbell refused to address the issue as he enteredarrivals, although over the weekend he stated specifically that Henson "definitely" knew the photo was being taken. The photographer said, however, that he was told to hide behind a car and not let Henson know his photograph was being taken.

Henson played down the disappointment of his non-selection for the first Test about which he had spoken during the tour.

"He [Woodward] explained why he didn't pick me and I understood. That's the way it goes. It's a difficult game we are in," he said. "I had my chance in the second Test and got injured after five minutes and don't remember much of it so it's disappointing the way the season ended. But it's been a great season."

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