Overblown and undercooked

Many things took an ill-starred tour off the rails but only one man is to blame
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The Independent Online

What gives it its extra flavouring, with a sharp twist of irony, is that Henry's reputation ultimately took a dive in the Principality after he was badly hurt four years ago in Australia - where he became the first non-British or Irish coach of the Lions and was a controversial choice ahead of one Clive Woodward, who was then the master of all he surveyed in England. The Lions, captained by Martin Johnson, won the First Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane brilliantly as Brian O'Driscoll ran riot, and should have wrapped up the series in the second in Melbourne. A turning point arrived when Jonny Wilkinson had a pass intercepted by Joe Roff and the Lions went on to lose the series 2-1.

While Henry was vilified, particularly by some English players who resented what they thought was a harsh regime of training, playing and more training, Woodward, a spectator in Australia, would return to claim the World Cup, the freedom of London and a knighthood.

Under John Mitchell, Woodward's former assistant (this is a bit like a family tree), the All Blackswent tamely out of the World Cup. Out too went Mitchell and in came Henry, who recruited Steve Hansen - he had succeeded Henry as coach of Wales - to transform the forwards, and Wayne Smith from Northampton to look after the backs.

So it came to this: Henry's All Blacks against Woodward's Lions and it has been no contest. "I'm expecting a lot more from the Lions,'' Henry said before yesterday's Second Test. "Like any wounded profes-sional side they will be hugely motivated. I'm sure Clive has got a masterplan.''

Hansen was not so diplomatic. "I don't know what he's going to do and I'm not sure he knows himself.'' There's the rub. Woodward's Lions threw more money and more people into this tour than you could shake a stick at. Shoehorned into a short itinerary, Woodward, his nine coaches and 51 players, had very little time to hit on the right combinations.

Wilkinson, who played centre in the First Test, was described by Woodward as the "best back at the moment and that's not on reputation. He is the man''. Like most of Woodward's post-World Cup judgements it is questionable and it invites a response: was Woodward the man for this challenge of challenges?

He was here 12 months ago when England were twice given the run-around. Nevertheless he was named as the Lions coach, resigned from the Rugby Football Union and had one eye on a job in football. For this assignment, possibly his last in rugby, he went with what he called the "tried and tested'', the backbone of the England team that won the World Cup.

His judgement was fatally flawed. The game has moved on, and at a pace that has left the over-30s chasing shadows. Once the All Blacks had sorted out their pack, the backs were queueing up to show off, so much so that Joe Rokocoko, a try-scoring sensation, could not even make it to the bench.

The Lions have been unlucky, losing key players like Lawrence Dallaglio and the captain O'Driscoll, but everything else was not down to a throw of the dice. That said, perhaps you would have needed asuccession of double sixes to beat this lot. Gareth Thomas, who succeeded O'Driscoll, described the All Blacks as "aweseome" after yesterday's 48-18 defeat. "They are willing to run from anywhere and sometimes I thought there were 30 of them out there instead of 15."

Daniel Carter, who scored 33 points yesterday, said the All Blacks were developing a "special culture" and building a base for the 2007 World Cup. That is Henry's ultimate mission.

For the disastrous First Test in Christchurch Woodward chose a side that did not make sense. For example Jason Robinson at full-back for Josh Lewsey. There were so many inept selections but Woodward insisted, after the 21-3 defeat, that his choice had been sound.

He had also insisted, before the start, that he was picking on form. No sir. Four days later he should have been eating the largest humble pie in the world's biggest bakery when he changed the team for the Second Test from virtually top to bottom.

Meanwhile, players who should have been selected in the first place were being flown out, despite the fact that the initial squad of 45 was designed to prevent such a response. Lurking in the background was Alastair Campbell, a political animal who did not know one end of a Lion from the other. If this was Hollywood, fine. In New Zealand the visiting circus - Prince William was the latest addition - made the All Blacks even more determined to prove a point.

Did I say All Blacks? Tut tut. In articles filed by players any mention of "All Blacks'' was changed to "New Zealand''. This was deemed less threatening. If the All Blacks had a professor of spin doctoring, the Lions would probably become the Pussycats. But they didn't need one.

This tour was 18 months in the planning and cost a fortune. Woodward said it was the best prepared party ever to leave for New Zealand. In fact it was the worst since the 1983 tour captained by the Irish hooker Ciaran Fitzgerald.

It is no disgrace to lose here - all but one of the British and Irish invaders have been repelled since the 19th century. This effort, however, in concept, construction and application, was ill-fated and the blame lies at the clay feet of Sir Clive.

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