Sir Clive in cuckoo land to the last

New Zealand 38 Lions 19
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The Independent Online

In an untidy match littered with errors, the All Blacks always had the edge and two tries in the space of four minutes early in the first half put the Lions on the back foot, where they have been for most of the tour.

Apart from the extraordinary support of the visiting fans there was no redeeming feature for the Lions who were beaten five tries to one, bringing the series total to 12-3, which was just about a fair reflection of the desperate nature of the contest.

Despite this Sir Clive, beaten but unbowed, made some astonishing claims. He had more than 50 players in New Zealand and said that if he had his way again - which he won't - he would bring an even bigger squad and play not two games a week but three, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

"I assume,'' Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach responded, "that Clive was jesting." When informed that he was deadly serious, Henry said: "I'm flabbergasted." He wasn't the only one. The Lions played 11 games over six weeks and lost upwards of an entire team. If they had played three games a week they would not have been able to field a sevens team.

Sir Clive, who was not at his most charitable in defeat, also maintained there was no gulf between the teams and questioned whether the All Blacks are as good as many people believe them to be. "I only judge teams like New Zealand in World Cups where we're all on the same stage. Who holds the World Cup at the moment? There's no difference between the north and southern hemispheres as long as they are on a level playing field. The Lions is a complete one-off and I was under no illusions about how difficult this challenge was. Everything was put in place to win the Tests and we didn't quite make it. I've done the job to the very best of my ability and I can look in the mirror. I caution New Zealand. Reputations can be destroyed in one game."

Or three Tests. While Henry said the tour had been "superb for New Zealand rugby and the country in general", the reverse was true for the Lions who threw millions into their first professional expedition here and were beaten at every turn. They fell straight into an old-fashioned ambush and had neither the firepower nor the tactical nous to survive.

Does this ill-fated tour leave the Lions looking an endangered species? Bill Beaumont, the tour manager and chairman of the Lions management board, said it was "the greatest brand in world rugby" and that they would be touring South Africa in four years time. "There's huge disappointment at losing the Tests but everyone has said they wouldn't have changed a thing and that they had a great rugby experience," Beaumont said. "What would we change? Maybe we were two or three games short in terms of preparation. What we wanted to ensure is that everybody was desperate to play for the Lions and they are."

He found support from Henry who coached the Lions in Australia four years ago. "They must survive,'' Henry said. "It's essential. I've still got a bit of Lion in me and I'm sure they will have great teams in the future.''

Just not now. The Lions, whose only victory at Eden Park came in 1959, got a big break in the seventh minute except it turned out to be nothing of the kind. Tana Umaga, the All Blacks captain, was sent to the sin-bin much to the delight of the visiting supporters who have been on his case since the infamous tackle on Brian O'Driscoll. Could the Lions exploit their advantage?

Fat chance. No sooner had Umaga gone off for killing the ball - he put in a huge tackle on Donncha O'Callaghan when the Lions had a three-man overlap - than Conrad Smith, finding acres of space down the left flank, shrugged off a non-tackle by Geordan Murphy for one of the softest tries he will ever score in international rugby.

Four minutes later Luke McAlister, in his first Test, put in a grubber kick which Dwayne Peel fumbled over his own line, gifting Ali Williams an even softer try. It was surreal. The Lions had seen a 6-0 lead, courtesy of a couple of penalties by Stephen Jones, turn into 14-6 deficit.

It could not get any worse but of course it did. When McAlister, at 22 a year younger than Daniel Carter, made a half break, beating his opposite number Jones in the process, he offloaded to Umaga - described by Henry as the player of the series (which was not a difficult call although O'Driscoll might disagree) - and the centre cruised in. That made it 24-12 just before half-time and seven minutes after the break Umaga crossed again, this time past Paul O'Connell and Jones.

The Lions, whose threat behind the scrum was non- existent, resorted to a rolling maul and Lewis Moody got their only try while the All Black No 8 Jerry Collins was serving time in the sin bin. But in the last minute the Lions launched what looked like their most dangerous attack of the game only for Rico Gear to intercept on the right wing and score at the other end. Even at the death the All Blacks moved up a gear.

Woodward will spend the next two weeks on a fishing holiday before joining Southampton Football Club. "I've had a great eight years," said the man who guided England to the World Cup, "and it's time to move on."

New Zealand have the Tri-Nations to look forward to followed by a tour of the four home countries in November. "It'll be interesting to see how they do against teams that are fresh," Woodward said. Henry did not take the bait. "I wish Clive well in his pastures new," the former headmaster from Auckland said.