The sign of Sir Clive: too much, too many

Lions 2005: Big does not necessarily mean beautiful - and early signs of Woodward's approach are not encouraging
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The Independent Online

One down only 11 to go. If they thought the match with Argentina in Cardiff was an eye opener they ain't seen nothing yet. After the 25-25 stalemate last Monday (perhaps rugby should embrace a penalty shoot-out), Sir Clive Woodward had two things to say. He was relieved the Lions didn't pick up any injuries and it was "early days''.

One down only 11 to go. If they thought the match with Argentina in Cardiff was an eye opener they ain't seen nothing yet. After the 25-25 stalemate last Monday (perhaps rugby should embrace a penalty shoot-out), Sir Clive Woodward had two things to say. He was relieved the Lions didn't pick up any injuries and it was "early days''.

Sir Clive was speaking through clenched teeth as he and his squad walked through the rain to an 11pm dinner in a giant marquee on Cardiff Arms Park. It was the last thing he wanted to attend but as it was hosted by the tour's sponsors he had no choice. There is no such thing as a free supper. Sir Clive has bet the family silver and everybody else's money on the 2005 Lions, the super de luxe version.

More players than ever before, more coaches, more of everything except the number of matches. If the Test series is lost on three successive Saturdays from 25 June he can have no excuses. At least by then he should know his optimum 22 although between next Saturday, when they play the Bay of Plenty and the First Test, several fringe candidates should have made a move. If Woodward gets the pack right the Lions have a chance. The All Blacks forwards were dire in the World Cup semi-final against Australia but under Graham Henry, Steven Hansen and Wayne Smith they will be a different proposition.

"Clive wanted this to be the best prepared squad and it's fair to say he has left no stone unturned,'' Ian McGeechan, one of Woodward's assistants and a Lions veteran, said. "The support environment is all geared to winning the Tests.''

If Woodward was tight-lipped after the débâcle against the Pumas, McGeechan looked distraught. "What you saw was a group of young men desperate to do well,'' he said, and you immediately thought of Argentina rather than the Lions. The occasion was special, as was the venue and the crowd. Argentina had a point to prove - they want the Six Nations to become seven - and they did it brilliantly despite the fact they had 26 players unavailable.

The Lions, on the other hand, were worryingly poor, early days or not. All the stuff that should raise the level of a team with a magical brand - pride in the jersey, history, a unique opportunity etc, belonged to the Pumas. Like McGeechan, the Lions looked shell-shocked. Instead of a cruise down the Taff they found themselves in something akin to the Battle of the River Plate.

"Don't panic", said Bill Beaumont, the manager who is already taking on an avuncular role. He pointed out that the 1971 Lions, the most successful of all, had lost their opening match. Woodward has also been doing a bit of swatting. "The success rate in Australia is 60 per cent, in South Africa 30 per cent and in New Zealand 10 per cent. It's a tough, tough place to go. That's why you want to go there. Professional rugby has moved on and the Lions have to move on.''

If comparisons are valid between the amateurs, in the sense they didn't write down "rugby player" as their occupation, and the modern model that can be found in the example set by Carwyn James 34 years ago. Woodward is red hot on attention to detail; James beat him to it.

The coach of coaches, who never coached Wales, compiled dossiers on the New Zealand players and provinces which enabled him to pick sides for specific matches way in advance. He asked Dave Sexton, then the manager of Chelsea, about his training schedules and also borrowed ideas from Wigan rugby league club.

John Dawes, the only Lions captain to return from New Zealand victorious, said of his coach: "He was a man who gave so much to other people. He never asked for anything for himself. In rugby terms he was on a different plane to other people.''

It would be great to think that come July Brian O'Driscoll will be saying the same of Woodward. Having won the World Cup and left Twickenham, the series is Woodward's last challenge in rugby. It is not easy to disagree with somebody who has won the World Cup but too many coaches - the Lions have 10 - can spoil the broth.

The All Blacks have three, all of whom have intimate knowledge of the game in Britain, and that is quite enough thank you.

There are other disturbing signs. The omission of Mark Cueto did not make any sense. The Sale wing was belatedly added after the withdrawal of Iain Balshaw, but the selection of Balshaw did not make much sense either. Nor did the fact that Ireland have more players on duty than Wales. Two of the most potent players in the game, Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson, are not what they were and are by no means certain of making the cut.

Then there is the shadow cast by Alastair Campbell. What on earth, in the name of New Labour, is he doing on this tour? OK, so the Lions management had a rough ride in Australia in 2001 when several players sold esprit de corps down the Swan River with ill-timed articles that were poison-penned back to Blighty. It made Henry's life a misery and the upshot was a 2-1 series win for the Wallabies.

Presumably Campbell, Tony Blair's consigliere, will be censor in chief in New Zealand but there's one small problem. He'll be sending the odd despatch back on life with the Lions and who is going to censor the censor?

And then there's the statement from Clarence House. "Prince William has been invited by the Lions to join them on their tour to New Zealand. The invitation came from Sir Clive Woodward and is for the Prince to spend time with them in the build-up to the Second and Third Tests and attend both games.''

Sir Clive said it would add to the sense of occasion. It will certainly add to the security of the tour. If Prince William wants to watch the Lions fine, but the last thing the tourists need is yet another addition, by Royal Appointment, to a party that could spin out of control.

As amiable as he was you wouldn't have seen Carwyn James putting up with this nonsense. Nor would he have had Neil Back, who is suspended for four weeks, ostensibly working as a water carrier in Cardiff but fitted with an earpiece and acting as a tactical go-between.

This is the first professional tour to New Zealand and that should favour the Lions, who have considerable resources. Woodward is doing a Roman Abramovich but even that may not be enough. The Test count is 26-6 to the All Blacks. "We've got the makings of a great Test side,'' Woodward said. "We respect the All Blacks but we don't fear them.''

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