Woodward 'completely focused' on leading 2005 Lions tour

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The Independent Online

Clive Woodward's coaching role with the 2005 British and Irish Lions, was being discussed at committee level in Dublin last night.

Clive Woodward's coaching role with the 2005 British and Irish Lions, never remotely at risk but still the subject of frenzied debate in all four corners of the game in these islands, was reconfirmed by the tour committee last night after a meeting in Dublin.

The fact there was a discussion in the first place bemused some of the most senior figures in the sport. "Clive is the right person to lead the Lions; he's been successful in everything he's ever done," said Woodward's successor as England coach, Andy Robinson ­ and while the outcome was entirely predictable, the affair did little for the reputation of one of rugby's most revered institutions.

Woodward, hardly the most popular figure among rugby's Celtic fringe, cut his World Cup-winning ties with Twickenham last week in a fusillade of accusation and a firestorm of controversy. His departure did not endear him to the establishment figures who inhabit the inner circle of the Lions, and there was apparently some concern from Wales that his commitment to next summer's tour of New Zealand might be less than total, despite Woodward's public insistence to the contrary.

Happily, the tour manager Bill Beaumont reported that Woodward, who met with the committee in person, had satisfied them as to his enthusiasm for the task and was free to continue planning this latest bid to win a series on All Black soil ­ a feat achieved only once, by Carwyn James' great side in 1971. "His commitment to the Lions is absolute," Beaumont said.

After discussions with Beaumont and the rest of the committee ­ Noel Murphy of Ireland, Gordon Dickson of Scotland and David Pickering of Wales ­ Woodward repeated his sentiments of last week.

"My complete focus is the Lions. There are no distractions either from within rugby or outside it," he said. "I am totally committed to the task of planning and delivering a programme that provides the players with the best possible chance of winning the series."

There was hard news from New Zealand about an addition to the 10-match itinerary ­ a game against Auckland in the final week of the tour. The game has been fixed for Eden Park on 5 July, between the Wellington and Auckland Tests, and gives the fixture list a more formidable appearance.

When the itinerary was first issued, Lions traditionalists were disappointed at the absence of meetings with some of the more familiar New Zealand opponents ­ Canterbury and Waikato, to name but two. Auckland were also off the list, a decision that caused widespread dismay among those who consider a tour of New Zealand to be the greatest of all rugby adventures. The Lions, seriously put out by suggestions from All Black country that they were unwilling to play too many challenging midweek matches, responded by pushing for this extra game.