Grandiose scheme that failed to deliver

 

Rugby/Lions Tour review: The 2005 British and Irish Lions will be remembered for many things - great trip, pity about the rugby would be the general verdict - and after a series whitewash by an aggregate of 67 points they will rank as one of the worst ever, assuredly the most expensively assembled, and thus the biggest waste.

Might wasn't right, after all, and there won't be widespread gnashing of teeth over that; more about the actual employment of such a massive party.

Leaving aside the top-heavy 30-man back-up staff - and no doubt stories of disharmony on the coaching side will surface in the coming months - Clive Woodward ultimately selected 51 players and played a staggering 48.

Woodward had many good ideas, and some of them worked. The use of two distinct coaching staffs helped maintain harmony in a notional "midweek" team. The players were kept busy off the pitch (which was just as well), they engaged far better with New Zealand than the 2001 vintage did with Australia, and for much of the tour, they appeared to be enjoying themselves and each other's company.

However, their dissatisfaction deepened with the relative lack of game time and success. Given only three of these players ended up spending even half the aggregate time on the pitch - 960 minutes, based on match time, including the Argentina game - clearly the squad could have been trimmed.

More than anything, players want to play matches, and while the squad was, as usual, held together by sticking tape come the final Test at the end of another 40-week season, for most the relative lack of game time would have been deeply frustrating.

Yet it wasn't so much the profligate expenditure as the actual use of these players that will damn Woodward's approach. His myopic loyalty to a core of English World Cup winners no longer at their best, especially in his untried selection for the first Test, was his biggest of several mistakes and effectively derailed the tour.

Amid all the self-serving excuses or distractions - All Blacks' dirty deeds, the lineout, the Lions ethos - and the muddled suggestions for the future - three games a week, an even bigger squad, flying in a separate 22 from offshore for the Tests - Woodward never said mea culpa for an untested, flawed selection or anything else.

"That team could have been picked before the Six Nations," observed one Irish player at the time, and the selection could only have sent a subliminal message to all the tour party that form in the interim and on tour had been largely ignored. The net result was that even players in form suffered and went down with a sinking ship.


Player-by-player ratings

Compiled by Gerry Thornley

Total Starts (Tests), Replacements (Tests), Minutes (Tests), Points, Tries.

NEIL BACK 2 (1), 1 (0), 200 (80), 5pts, 1try Looked an even dodgier selection at the end of a tour when his four-week ban didn't help, though Clive probably wouldn't have played him much more anyway. The Lions/England past-its-sell-by-date template personified. Rating: 4/10.

GORDON BULLOCH 4 (0), 2 (1), 292 (10), 0, 0. Effective captain of the Midweek Massive, perhaps a little unlucky not to get series look-in until last minutes, prompting moving Flower of Scotland in stands and ironic one in press box. Rating: 5/10.

SHANE BYRNE 4 (2), 3 (1), 289 (67), 0, 0. A great story, peaking with performance against Wellington to earn first Test selection, when victim of complex and changed lineout calls, not to mention lack of backrow option, before redeeming himself in third Test. Rating: 6/10.

GARETH COOPER 2 (0), 2 (0), 151 (0), 5pts, 1try. Tendency to take a step and lack of physique consigned him to peripheral role and hardened view that Scotland's Mike Blair should have been taken instead. Rating: 3/10.

MARTIN CORRY 5 (1), 4 (2), 498 (99), 10pts, 2tries. Flogged, eased off mid-tour, then flogged again, predictably the Tiger was Lions workhorse before his tour ultimately suffered like that of many others. A British media hero but in comparison to Ryan Jones or All Blacks counterparts lacked dynamism. Rating: 6/10.

CHRIS CUSITER 3 (0), 3 (0), 238 (0), 0, 0. Kept his head and performance levels up, contributing handsomely in a couple of the better wins, against Taranaki and Otago, as well as the Manawatu romp, and actually returned home unbeaten. Rating: 6/10.

GORDON D'ARCY 5 (0), 2 (0), 381 (0), 10pts, 2tries. For such a talent, an anti-climactic tour. Against Otago, despite conceding two high-profile penalties, he defended well and finished with a good effort against Auckland. But lacked usual one-on-one genius and, amid bad management, effectively ended his own tour. Rating: 5/10.

LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO 1 (0), 0, 19 (0), 0, 0. No coincidence that the Lions' best spell of rugby featured Lol at what looked like his vintage best. A near-unwinnable series was probably lost with his knee injury against Bay of Plenty. No rating.

MATT DAWSON 2 (0), 4 (2), 216 (37), 0, 0. Toed the party line despite a frustrating farewell tour for a big-game player and Lions veteran. Despite a slowing pass would have given more leadership if given the chance but, confined to cameos, produced his best in one of only two starts, against Auckland.

WILL GREENWOOD 4(1), 1(1), 369(158), 5pts, 1try. Top bloke who was one-paced, defensively unsure, and clearly way past his best even in end-of-season comeback, yet played all bar one minute of first and third Tests. Only Woodward could have made such an illogical call. Rating: 4/10.

DANNY GREWCOCK 3(0), 2(1), 281(23), 0, 0. The abrasive lock added to his list of crimes by being sent home for biting Keven Mealamu, admittedly after the All Black hooker shoved his hand into Grewcock's face. No apology sought or received there. Rating: 2/10.

JOHN HAYES 5(0), 0, 301(0), 0, 0. Suffered in scrums against Taranaki and consigned to dirt-tracking thereafter. Yet emerged with a decent workload, remained one of the best tight-head lifters around and had his best game against Auckland. But why don't we see more of him with the ball? Rating: 4/10.

GAVIN HENSON 4(1), 0, 285 (71), 10pts, 2tries. Struggled with defensive system and lost his tackling technique. At his best in fit of pique against Southland, but went missing thereafter, including second Test. Man management wasn't a tour forte, and he required the most. A real talent but needs to get his head straightened. Rating: 4/10.

DENIS HICKIE 5, 0, 400(0), 0, 0. Never stopped trying but failed to fire as he can and though he defended well his few mistakes all seemed to be caught in glorious Technicolor, contributing to tries being either conceded or forfeited. Rating: 4/10.

RICHARD HILL 3(1), 0(0), 178(18), 0, 0. We'll never know whether he could have scaled previous heights and history may judge that he was pushed back too soon, possibly ending a great career. Rating: 4/10.

CHARLIE HODGSON 4(0), 0(0), 222(0), 58pts, 2tries. One of those who went home unbeaten and generally played well, striking the ball beautifully (a relative tour rarity), running positively and tackling strongly. Rating: 6/10.

SHANE HORGAN 1(0), 7(3), 208 (62), 0, 0. Looked in bristling prime nick, playing superbly against Taranaki, yet never started another game. Considered good enough for Test 22 throughout series yet, amid, all the reshuffling, never started. Utterly illogical, and the biggest victim of Woodward's whims. Rating: 6/10.

GETHIN JENKINS 5(3), 2, 377(190), 5pts, 1try. Held his side of the scrum up well and excellent in the loose. One of only five to start all Tests, kept form pretty well. Rating: 7/10.

STEPHEN JONES 3(2), 2(1), 270(179), 22pts, 0. Late arrival, looked unhinged by Jonny's presence alongside him, didn't attack the line like he does for Wales and shouldn't have started third Test. Rating: 5/10.

BEN KAY 4(1), 1(0), 254(57), 0, 0. Time and injuries have taken their toll. Not even a regular Tiger, he was an undistinguished Lion, being more culpable than most for lineout fiasco in first Test. Rating: 4/10.

JOSH LEWSEY 6(3), 0, 468(240), 10pts, 2tries. Looked primed for a huge tour in opening two-try salvo against the Bay, and was one of the tour's pillars (the only one to play every minute of the Tests) though even he suffered amid general malaise when shunted around positions. Rating: 7/10.

LEWIS MOODY 5(2), 0, 396(156), 5pts, 1. Not cut out for the breakdown work in New Zealand, but you couldn't fault his energy levels, restart work and tackle counts. Rating: 7/10.

GEORDAN MURPHY 7(1), 0(0), 555(80), 15pts, 3tries. No one played more rugby, and had he started first Test, as he should have, his tour might have panned out differently, but by the third Test his form had waned and he was ill-suited to conservative approach and lost cause. Rating: 5/10.

DONNCHA O'CALLAGHAN 7(2), 0, 512(153), 0, 0. No-one put himself about more, cleaned out ruck ball and attacked opposition throw better than "Dun-cha", as all bar one announcer called him. One of the few tour successes who might also be better for the experience. Needs to improve skill levels and go on from here. Rating: 7/10.

PAUL O'CONNELL 5(3), 0, 390(230), 0, 0. Not the vintage tour we'd have hoped, probably had a miserable time, and one suspects not a bosom buddy of Clive, Robbo and Larder. Yes, he conceded that penalty but there were other turning points, his hands failed him too often, yet manifestly kept physically taking on ABs more than most. Rating: 7/10.

BRIAN O'DRISCOLL 4(1), 0, 242(1), 5pts, 1try. Clearly a positive presence as captain, but sadly only one glimpse of his brilliance. His unusual missed tackles betrayed lack of confidence in system and team-mates before tour was viciously terminated. Rating: 6/10.

RONAN O'GARA 2(0), 5(1), 279(15), 49pts, 2tries. He was the fulcrum of the opening salvo, then the defensive villain, but maturely kept his focus. What he did well (moving the line, kicking the corners) he did better than anyone, and should have started third Test. Rating: 6/10.

MICHAEL OWEN 6(0), 1(0), 470(0), 0, 0. Form dipped after flying mid-tour return visit home, but for all his sublime handling skills, his lack of dynamism made him one of the tour's biggest disappointments. Rating: 4/10.

DWAYNE PEEL 5(3), 0, 362 (209), 5pts, 1try. A relatively enduring model of consistency, passed well throughout and was a livewire threat in setting a positive tone at the start of each Test. Rating: 8/10.

JASON ROBINSON 4(2), 0(0), 270(137), 5pts, 1try. Another of Woodward's flights of fantasy, the reluctant tourist didn't magically regain the form he had lost through the season. Like many, you felt sorry for him. Rating: 4/10.

GRAHAM ROWNTREE 4(0), 2(2), 358(56), 0, 0. Big game against Otago and at 34 earned his Test laurels without being necessarily an impact replacement either time. Rating: 5/10.

TOM SHANKLIN 2(0), 1(0), 191(0), 5pts, 1try. Never tried in midfield and hampered with knee injury, the suspicion lurked that he came out with the problem. Rating: 4/10.

ANDY SHERIDAN 2(0), 3(0), 200(0), 0, 0. Potent scrummager and ball handler, made impact whenever he played but curiously overlooked for Test role. Either he should have been risked or he shouldn't have been brought out with an injury. Rating: 5/10.

OLLIE SMITH 4(0), 1(0), 296(0), 10pts, 2tries. Worthy tour effort without producing the class to make a real push for Test place and another hindered by season-long battering and injuries. Rating: 5/10.

MATT STEVENS 3(0), 3(0), 223(0), 0, 0. Solid if undistinguished tour. Great tourist by all accounts, and like Hayes and others, actually returned home unbeaten without really pushing for Test place. Rating: 5/10.

GARETH THOMAS 4(3), 0, 290(210), 10pts, 2tries. Arrived late, always a positive impact, frontline leader, reacted with typical gusto when pressed into captaincy and when shunted into midfield role before wilting in last week with a virus. Rating: 8/10.

STEVE THOMPSON 2(1), 4(1), 214(101), 0, 0. Curiously started only two matches, his misfiring against Otago costing him a first-Test start, but reacted with superb second-Test performance. Rating: 6/10.

ANDY TITTERRELL 2(0), 1(0), 268, 0, 0. Two-and-a-half games out of 12? His lively ball-carrying looked lightweight in this company and merely added to feeling that Mefin Davies should have gone instead. Rating: 3/10.

JULIAN WHITE 5(3), 1, 416(236), 0, 0. But for a blood-binning, would have played every minute of the Tests yet left little discernible imprint - his reputation as one of the great scrummagers wilting as a result. Rating: 6/10.

JONNY WILKINSON 4(2), 0, 301 (141), 44pts, 0. Woodward's most misguided loyalty/crutch, especially at centre for first Test. The poor fella's bravery couldn't be faulted and he actually moved the line valiantly in second Test, but missed key kick and fell off several tackles. Rating: 6/10.

MARTYN WILLIAMS 6(0), 1(1), 444(4), 5pts, 1try. Unsurprisingly blown away by Marty Holah and his fellow Maoris. Skilful link play was best employed when dirt trackers were rolling over lightweights, as evidenced by four minutes out of 444 in Tests. Rating: 5/10.

SHANE WILLIAMS 5(1), 0, 400(80), 40pts, 6tries. Good against Otago and dipped his bread against mighty Manawatu before being blown away by All Blacks when missing key tackles, and passes to him or from him came with red crosses on them. Rating: 4/10.

MARK CUETO 4(1), 1, 347(80), 15pts, 3 tries. A reluctant late replacement for Iain Balshaw (another misguided pick). Strong running and eye for the line was underused before peaking against Auckland, if not cutting much ice in third Test. Rating: 5/10.

SIMON SHAW 5(0), 0, 382(0), 0, 0. Late arrival for Malcolm O'Kelly, performed well and was unlucky not to make Test bench but knows his standing with Woodward's better than anyone and by now suffers for it. Rating: 5/10.

SIMON EASTERBY 4(2), 1(0), 333 (160), 5pts, 1 try. Replacement for Dallaglio, scaled greater heights than in Six Nations, giving lineout extra dimension, performing effectively at breakdown and in defence. Rating: 7/10.

RYAN JONES 3(2), 1(1), 287(210), 5pts, 1 try. Individual performance of the tour against Otago, when the squad's least-prepared player, and though not scaling those heights in the Tests, could now become one of Wales's main men. Rating: 8/10.

BRENT COCKBAIN 0, 2(0), 84(0), 0, 0. Two typically no-holds-barred replacement cameos as a late call-up. No rating.

JASON WHITE 1(0), 0, 48(0), 0, 0. Unlucky to miss out initially. Must wonder why he was belatedly called out at all. No rating.

Didn't play: Iain Balshaw, Malcolm O'Kelly and Simon Taylor.