Woodward meticulous in misjudgement

Second Test: World Cup winner's litany of mistakes doomed this tour and may threaten the entire Lions concept
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The Independent Online

But will the Lions? Will they recover from the divisions of spirit that will inevitably sour the memory, the overwhelming sense that until it was exposed so cleanly, so irresistibly by superior opponents, the drive of the tour was not for new possibilities, new chemistry, but the preservation of old, played-out imperatives - ones belonging to an England team who had already galloped off into history.

The anthem of the tour was "The Power of Four"; the reality, until it was too late, was the privileges of one - the World Cup team whose time was no longer the present.

Some were already saying the Lions idea was in danger of becoming an anachronism before Woodward's £9 million expedition landed on these shores. That in itself was threatening enough, but what has happened since has only compounded the doubts.

Woodward's last disservice to the concept came in the wake of the Second Test 48-18 slaughter when he said that if winning the Tests was the only true measure of success, had he to do it again he might set up base camp in Melbourne - imagine how well that has gone down here - and fly in his 22-man squad for the big games. That he should conjure such a thought in the moment of final defeat was somewhere between the last mistake and the last insult.

Woodward's mistakes? From the man who so meticulously guided England to their World Cup triumph in 2003, there have been so many here that you might say they have formed a stream of unconsciousness. In strictly rugby terms, his faith in Jonny Wilkinson was again exposed as a killing error. It has been at the heart of the time-warp inside which Woodward seems to have operated since the hero's drop kick sailed through the posts in Sydney, and when Wilkinson had to leave the field with another injury in the second half yesterday it was as though a final judgement had been passed.

The truth is Wilkinson was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His presence was the result of extreme and wilful optimism; it was a nostalgic absurdity, and though Woodward was as defensive as ever on the subject - according to him, Wilkinson had played a fantastic game - all substance had drained from his argument. Nor did the coach help himself with his contention that the Lions were armed with three other out-halves in roughly the same league as the masterful Carter: Stephen Jones, who had the task of replacing Wilkinson when the cause was lost, utterly, Ronan O'Gara and Charlie Hodgson.

Remember Hodgson? He was the England out-half pilloried because he didn't kick so accurately as the legendary Wilkinson, but who just happened to prove himself the most inventive and polished of the Lions detachment on his limited opportunities here. Hodgson's most challenging task in recent days was to take kicking practice in the presence of Prince William, whose official visit to the team would have been no less inappropriate if the Lions had been on the brink of a great triumph rather than catastrophic loss.

But then on this misbegotten tour the phrase "inappropriate presence" has in most cases never been more than a relative term.

The All Black coach, Graham Henry, incensed by the level of Lions spin doctoring in the wake of the injury to their captain Brian O'Driscoll, could not resist one last stab at Alastair Campbell, whose appointment as media manager ensured a tide of attempted press manipulation that might have raised eyebrows back in Westminster. Henry said he was pleased his team had risen above provocations initiated by a man who didn't know rugby, and who had no passion for it.

For Woodward there were no regrets. If he had his time over again, he would do everything the same. This, presumably, meant he would again drop seven players and make four positional changes after the First Test. He would bring in young, fiery bloods like Ryan Jones and Simon Easterby only after the 36-year-old Neil Back had been confirmed in his dotage by Richie McCaw and Richard Hill's vulnerability to injury had been finally confirmed.

He would not have resisted advice to press on with a hostile campaign against Umaga for his part in O'Driscoll's injury, not having seen that with each new barb the motivational levels in the All Black camp went up another notch.

Given the quality unleashed by the All Blacks it is no doubt true that a faultless display of pragmatic Lions leadership would not have guaranteed success. But in the first half yesterday there was a degree of Lions fight and spirit absent in Christchurch. There was a sense new reputations might just be made, though it has to be said there was no overwhelming sense of this in the cases of a strangely subdued Gavin Henson and an outgunned Shane Williams. In the end the All Blacks were too strong, too gifted and too fast, but what was unforgivable was that they had been allowed to take so much of the high ground in the opening phase of this mis-match.

Henry's final sword stroke was that there were lessons to be learned for British rugby - and they could be found quite near the English border. He was sayingWoodward's most conspicuous failure was one of vision. It didn't reach beyond his own border. It was a cruel remark, and a little self-serving in that it was Henry who first set in motion the Welsh revolution for so long neglected here. But then who could say that it wasn't true?

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