British & Irish Lions
So what was all that about, Sir Clive?
By Andrew Baldock of PA Sport
July 11, 2005
British and Irish Lions head coach Clive Woodward ponders his side's 38-19 defeat in the third and final test match alongside dejected front-rowers Graham Rowntree, Gordon Bulloch and Julian White. New Zealand v British and Irish Lions, Third Test, Eden Park, July 9 2005.
The Lions had little answer to the Kiwis © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Clive Woodward
Teams: Lions | New Zealand

The 2005 British and Lions tour of New Zealand will go down in history as a truly memorable rugby event - for all the wrong reasons.

Never has a Lions squad been so exposed in a Test series, suffering a whitewash for the first time since 1983, but also conceding more points - 107 - than ever before amid a catalogue of calamity that produced 21-3, 48-18 and 38-19 scorelines.

And should Woodward carry the can? You bet. After quitting as England boss last September, Woodward has concentrated his efforts exclusively towards planning and preparing for the All Blacks challenge.

As ever with Woodward, there no was time to waste - or expense spared.

Estimates are coming in at around £9million for a trip that saw England's World Cup-winning supremo take more players - 45 - and more backroom staff (29), than on any previous Lions expedition stretching back 100 years. Woodward, of course, embarked on a self-justification exercise from day one. And even now, as 20,000 Lions fans travel home still shaking their heads in disbelief at a hopelessly one-sided Test series, he talks about ``having no regrets'' and overseeing a ``fantastic'' tour ``behind the scenes.''

What Woodward forgets is that he established an enviable reputation with England as a winner, someone who delivered the goods when it really mattered, and the trust of Lions supporters was based on that. All the pre-tour propaganda was about a best-prepared squad in Lions history, world-class players and a feeling that he could achieve something special.

But all Woodward really achieved was letting down the fans who followed him 12,000 miles, and raised fresh question marks about his ability to continue to succeed as a top-class international coach. With England and the Lions, he lost eight of his last 10 Tests in charge.

Woodward headed the whole Lions operation as though he was the chief executive of a major global brand, yet he got selection horribly wrong in the first Test, was completely outgunned by a more astute All Blacks coach Graham Henry and became a figure the New Zealand media loved to hate.

But even at the end - his final tour press conference - Woodward could not resist a dig in the All Blacks' direction. ``I ask all New Zealanders to be very reflective. The only time you can judge is when every side arrives at the World Cup, because they had the same preparation,'' he said.

``We've been there, we've done it, we know what it takes. When I see them (New Zealand) winning a World Cup, then it is time to celebrate because it is a tough game - reputations can be destroyed in one game.''

Woodward's reputation was arguably destroyed during a depressing six weeks in New Zealand.

In his defence, the loss of injured talismen Lawrence Dallaglio, Brian O'Driscoll and Richard Hill critically undermined Lions' Test hopes, but their combined absence should not be allowed to paper over numerous cracks.

There were no excuses for the first Test ineptitude in Christchurch, when the Lions produced a performance even your average schoolboy team would have been ashamed of.

Realising his selection had horribly backfired, Woodward made 11 changes for the second chapter in Wellington. Result? 30-point defeat. And then, last weekend at Eden Park, an All Blacks side minus three world-class players - Dan Carter, Aaron Mauger and Richie McCaw - coasted to victory, 5-1 on tries.

Outside of the Tests, the Lions beat two weak provincial sides - Southland and Manawatu - defeated Otago impressively, but had several unconvincing moments before seeing off Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Wellington.

New Zealand Maori, meanwhile, the one side that had its complement of available All Blacks, beat the Lions in Hamilton far more comprehensively than a 19-13 scoreline suggests.

Off the field, the Lions' media image was equally poor. `Spin' doctor Alastair Campbell's appointment proved a major tactical blunder by Woodward. Campbell's autocratic image won few admirers within the huge travelling media party.

There was no need for Campbell to be on the trip. It was like taking a sledgehammer to crack a peanut, but Woodward decided it was something that had to happen - so it did.

The coach's persistence with Jonny Wilkinson proved another shocking error. Wilkinson, largely due to his lack of match sharpness following months of injury setbacks, is nowhere near the player he was two years ago, and All Blacks number 10 Carter horribly exposed a gulf in standards.

Woodward though, stuck with him, as he did with Wilkinson's fellow World Cup survivors like Neil Back and Will Greenwood. Wrong call. Then there was the endless debate about player numbers - Woodward used 50 in the end, and still wanted more - as decades of Lions tradition, and frequent success, were simply shunted into touch.

The debate about Woodward's Lions will continue to rage during the weeks and months ahead, and most of it, quite rightly, will prove critical and negative.

For his part, Woodward now embarks on a two-week fishing holiday before starting a career in football with Southampton. But as one member of the touring media remarked - ``I think the fish can rest easy.''

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