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Clive Woodward Explains How He And The Lions 'Let Paul O'Connell Down' In 2005

Clive Woodward Explains How He And The Lions 'Let Paul O'Connell Down' In 2005
By Gavan Casey
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Having coached England to World Cup glory in 2003, Clive Woodward was predictably asked to be Lions Head Coach for their tour to New Zealand two years later.

12 years after the most ill-fated and one-sided tour in Lions history, parallels have naturally been drawn between then and now, as the Lions prepare to visit the Kiwis this summer for the first time since a 3-0 blackwashing in 2005.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live this evening, Woodward reflected on the catastophe that was, beginning by claiming the Lions as a concept meant less to him than it does to the Irish, Welsh and Scottish rugby communities:

The Lions, to me, wasn't the top of my playing career, wasn't the top of my coaching career.

Playing for England was. Winning a World Cup was. Becoming the best team in the world, that was what it was all about.

The Lions was something I liked, I could understand why it's important to British and Irish rugby. But I sometimes think the Celtic countries put too much stall on it. It's almost the top of their tree, where I don't think it is because it is such a strange thing when you look at it logically.

You play away from home, you give all the advantage away, you've got a scratch team.

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Sure will we just do away with it, altogether?

Woodward went on to make some bold claims about Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll during that 2005 tour, firstly referring to them as being from a British country - Lions season does admittedly evoke numerous slips of the tongue from our neighbours to the east - before explaining how his plan to beat the All Blacks essentially revolved around incorporating both 'superstars' into his England team.

He also claimed that he had 'let Paul O'Connell down' on that tour, having - by his own admission - failed to build a good enough team to compliment O'Connell's ability.

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I always said, if you're going to coach a Lions team, play Australia number one, then play South Africa, but don't coach against New Zealand, because the history there isn't good. So there was a lot of people close to me saying, 'Don't do it'.

Once I said I'd do it, I was going to do it. At the end of the day I was thinking, we have just won a World Cup, we've got an amazing English team. And I was looking at the other British teams and especially looking at [Brian] O'Driscoll and [Paul] O'Connell and thinking, 'Crikey, we put a few of these players into the England team, I think we can beat New Zealand.'

I think I had my top five superstar players: Brian O'Driscoll - superstar, O'Connell - superstar, [Johnny] Wilkinson, and then [Richard] Hill, [Lawrence] Dallaglio, [Neil] Back.

I thought, if those players are absolutely on top of their game, we've got a real chance of beating New Zealand - especially O'Driscoll and O'Connell, I was really looking forward to working with them.

And it just didn't materialise. I mean, Brian lasted 18 seconds. I felt I did let O'Connell down, because he was such a great player, a great bloke, and we just didn't produce a team that allowed him to be at his best. He wasn't at his best, but that wasn't his fault - that was our fault.

[BBC]

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