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History of the Lions: New Zealand 2005

By Sean Davies

After the narrow failure of the 2001 tour, coach Graham Henry spoke of "betrayal" by members of his squad and called for smaller touring parties playing less games in the future.

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Sir Clive Woodward, his successor as Lions coach in 2005, chose the opposite path, naming a record 44-man party for his trip to face Henry's All Blacks in New Zealand.

There were 11 Irish (including captain Brian O'Driscoll), 10 of the Grand Slam-winning Wales squad, and three Scots, but the bulk came from England, including the remaining core of the side that Woodward had led to World Cup glory in 2003.

Twenty English players were named in the original squad, with the injured Jonny Wilkinson, Phil Vickery and Mike Tindall to be added if they could prove their fitness (only Wilkinson would).

If the size of the touring squad was regarded with incredulity, the 26-strong management team - including a kit technician and legal adviser - was the subject of ridicule.

More serious questions were asked when Alastair Campbell was added to the entourage as a press relations officer, traditionalists querying whether a media spin doctor would alter the spirit of a much-loved rugby touring side.

As an estimated 30,000 fans prepared to travel down under, the tour opened with a money-spinning warm-up against Argentina in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Against a weakened Pumas depleted by injuries and club commitments, the splits in the Lions' playing vision and philosophy were immediately evident.

The pragmatic England veterans who dominated the pack could be seen remonstrating with captain-for-the-night Michael Owen as he tried to raise the tempo.

It was left to Wilkinson - playing his first international since the World Cup final - to salvage Lions pride, a 100% kicking return helping them fight back for a 25-25 draw.

But it was the plucky Pumas who took all the plaudits, leaving cock-sure Kiwi journalists suggesting that Bay of Plenty would only need to field their second XV in the first game in New Zealand.

That proved an exaggeration, as the tourists secured a hard-fought 34-20 win in Rotorua.

Gavin Henson and Clive Woodward
This staged training ground photo caused huge controversy

But it came at a price, England talisman Lawrence Dallaglio ruled out of the rest of the series with a serious ankle injury.

After a comfortable 36-14 win over Taranaki, the Lions faced New Zealand Maori in Hamilton in a game billed as the 'fourth Test'.

Inspired by the occasion, the hugely committed home side ripped the tourists apart after the break to claim a 19-13 win, their first victory in six Lions matches dating back to 1930.

Woodward's team recovered with wins over Wellington, Otago and Southland to hot up the Test selection debate.

But the suspicion was that the coach had selected the bulk of his Test team before the tour began, the expanded squad and management splitting the squad into more defined midweek and Saturday teams than the Lions had ever known.

The XV that started against Southland knew that they would not make the first Test, an issue that particularly galled man-of-the-match Gavin Henson.

The controversial centre had impressed all tour and believed Woodward when he said he would pick on form.

But the Welshman found himself out in the cold due to Woodward's pre-ordained plan to play Stephen Jones at fly-half with Wilkinson switched to Henson's inside-centre berth.

Brian O'Driscoll
Skipper O'Driscoll lasted just two minutes of the first Test

To compound Henson's frustration, a stage-managed photograph was engineered by Campbell without his knowlege, showing the player chatting - apparently amicably - to Woodward on the training ground.

The tourists' flaws were swiftly and ruthlessly exploited by the All Blacks in the first Test in Christchurch, the home side playing a focused, physical and flair-filled brand of rugby that the disjointed Lions never looked like matching.

The filthy conditions kept the score down to 21-3, but the result was overshadowed by a second-minute injury to O'Driscoll that ruled the Lions skipper out of the rest of the tour.

At a ruck, the Irishman was dumped on his shoulder by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, a resulting dislocation sparking talk that the captain had been deliberately targeted.

O'Driscoll himself called it a "cheap shot", while Woodward and Campbell began a concerted campaign for action to be taken.

The New Zealand media bristled at the allegations levelled at their captain Umaga and at the spin being put out by the Lions camp.

No further action was taken by the officials, although in the long term the incident led the International Rugby Board to ban the so-called spear tackle.

Gareth Thomas
Gareth Thomas was charged with raising the Lions' spirits

In addition to losing O'Driscoll, a nagging knee problem ended Test-contender Tom Shanklin's tour, while the hugely influential Richard Hill's New Zealand experience was cut short by a knee injury after just 18 minutes in Christchurch.

Shane Williams forced himself into the Test side with five tries in the 109-6 midweek romp over Manawatu, but it was fellow Welshman Gareth Thomas who was charged with lifting the Lions' spirit.

Thomas took over the captaincy in his own inimitable style, typified by a legendary, foul-mouthed congratulatory phone conversation between Prime Minister Tony Blair and the disbelieving skipper!

The motivational powers of 'Alfie' seemed to have worked as Wales' Grand Slam skipper went under the posts for a first-minute try in the second Test in Wellington.

But Dan Carter quickly seized the initiative in a dazzling New Zealand display, the fly-half claiming 33 points in a comprehensive 48-18 win.

The Lions midweek team battled to a 17-13 win over Auckland to complete a 100% tour record for the side-tracked team.

But nothing could reverse the pattern of the one-sided Test series as the first team crashed 38-19 in the third and final showdown with the All Blacks in Auckland.

No Lions tour had been more meticulously planned and prepared for, but Woodward's squad were left to reflect on a first Test series whitewash since 1983 as criticism of their supremo's methods began to flood in.



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see also
2005 Lions: Squad & results
20 Jun 08 |  Rugby Union
History of the Lions
02 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Lions history in pictures
21 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's rugby history
11 Aug 07 |  Welsh
All Blacks magic: New Zealand rugby
21 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Mighty Boks: South African rugby
01 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Wallaby wonders: Aussie rugby
21 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union


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