Sir Clive exposed by humiliation

First Test: In a sea of unwelcome truths the biggest is that the coach is presiding over a parody
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The Independent Online

It is tragic and maybe sinister - in a routine, rugby kind of way - that Brian O'Driscoll, who promised to be one of the most thrilling and vital actors in the crusade that so soon appears to be all but over, didn't last a minute.

But then the game has a rough and random form of justice, and if the rage of both the Lions captain and his head coach, Sir Clive Woodward, is endorsed by a disciplinary body, it could be that the accused perpetrators of a "spearing" offence, the All Blacks captain Tana Umuga and hooker Keven Mealamu, will missthe Second Test in Wellington on Saturday. This might just give the Lions the belief that they can somehow fight their way back into contention. It is an extremely long shot based on the evidence.

One thing beyond doubt is that the Lions should put some check on their moral indignation. It is, after all, not so long ago that the endlessly celebrated Martin Johnson, a former Lions captain, smashed New Zealand's scrum-half Justin Marshall in the face. It was a cold- cocking of great brutality. Marshall could have suffered brain damage, but plainly he did not because he was a master of biting thought and action in yesterday's massacre. For the record: Johnson, a serial offender in these matters, was banned for one game.

Meanwhile, some other unwelcome truths emerged here. One was that when all the bombast and spin-doctoring is washed away we see what the British and Irish Lions really are, which is not the most thoroughly prepared (despite being the most extravagantly financed) edition of a glorious tradition, but a shambolic parody of the best of it. We did not have to wait long for the most damning of verdicts. It was rendered by a man at the heart of the Lions' last and only series victory here in 1971 - JPR Williams, who with his compatriots Barry John, Gareth Edwards and John Dawes, so brilliantly irrigated the work of their coach, the knowing, intellectual Carwyn James. JPR had only rage and embarrassment as he saw these latest Lions stumble from one ineptitude to another in a 21-3 defeat that could easily have been doubled in its weight and humiliation.

And then, when he left, he delivered his withering judgement. "The performance here tonight was a disgrace. You don't spend £9 million on rubbish." A harsh, even cruel, assessment of a team that lost their captain in a minute? An intemperate dismissal of such as Jonny Wilkinson, the national hero who came into this game lightly prepared but inevitably made a string of brave and punishing tackles? Only if you missed the point of what Williams was saying. His target was not the jumble of red shirts through which try-scorers Ali Williams, a lock who found an open door in the line-out, and the wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, who burned his way down the left wing, swept unmolested. The target was the leader of the biggest, most expensive rugby expedition ever - Sir Clive Woodward.

Woodward justified his extraordinary packing of 13 Englishmen into last night's squad of 22 because he judged them to be the superior competitors, the men who had once been to the mountaintop and still had the will, if not the form, to return there. It was a call not to glory from the man who was knighted in the wake of England's World Cup success of 2003 but to bone-deep embarrassment.

Wilkinson, whose kicking delivered the World Cup, is at the heart of the catastrophe. He made some trademarked tackles, but as a creative force he was non-existent. Even at the best of his times, he was always the facilitator rather than the shaper of triumph, and now he joined Woodward in the time warp - as did the quickly injured Richard Hill, the irrelevant and stuttering Jason Robinson, and the long becalmed Ben Kay. Wilkinson was out of position and out of sync. His tactical kicking, on the infrequent occasions it happened, was nothing so much as a badge of futility. These were the wild gambles of Woodward, and even the rainstorm that was supposed to bog down the gifted All Blacks brought no relief from the realities of huge error.

Woodward said, as he always does, that he had made his decisions and he would be happy to be judged on their results. Happy? No, haunted, and not least by the ferocious running of Richie McCaw, who never stopped pointing out that he was 24 years old and at the dawn of a great career and that the man scampering desperately at his heels, Neil Back, was 36 and already past the end of his own.

The most serious charge against Woodward is that while he was appointing his spin doctor, the weirdly inappropriate ex-Downing Street hatchet man Alastair Campbell, inviting a disrupting visit from Prince William and selecting his 45 players and 30 assistants, he was missing the most challenging point of a Lions tour. It is the blending of Celtic wit - the most enduring ingredient of all great Lions performances - with sturdy English force. It is the juggling of widely differing temperaments and talents, and at its best it is a supremely subtle business.

The abandonment of even a pretence of such ambition was harshly spotlighted at the moment of O'Driscoll's disaster. A natural replacement would have been Gavin Henson, one of the most explosive young players in the world. But Henson, a Welshman, was sitting in the stands. O'Driscoll's place was taken by Will Greenwood - another time-expired Englishman. It seemed to say everything about a dire misadventure.

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