Woodward papers over cracks

 

Clive Woodward was obliged to categorically deny any truth in a Sunday newspaper report in New Zealand that two of his assistant coaches, Eddie O'Sullivan and Phil Larder, were involved in a heated confrontation after the first Test in Christchurch.

"I'm surprised it wasn't a brawl," responded Woodward sarcastically, in reference to the report.

"Honestly, I know nothing about that at all. The coaching staff have all got on brilliantly well, especially the two groups of coaches. Eddie and Phil sit on the bus every day together and I honestly know nothing about that at all."

According to insiders, however, the two coaches apparently disagreed initially over a defensive play, which then led to an angry exchange of words when O'Sullivan took exception to a comment by Larder.

That said, it would be an unusual state of affairs if no two coaches ever had a disagreement over a period of seven weeks in a tour such as this.

Once again, Woodward also had to stress that Gavin Henson has been "a complete role model, and I haven't had to work hard on any player and if I did there was no way I'd have selected him for the Test match".

He also revealed Henson suffered mild concussion in the second Test. The Welshman must, therefore, be a doubt for the third Test, along with Jonny Wilkinson, while the All Blacks have ruled out Saturday's record points scorer, Daniel Carter (bruised shoulder), and Aaron Mauger (hamstring strain).

More pertinently, although admitting that the three big Southern Hemisphere sides have moved on since England's World Cup win, Woodward denied he had been overly reliant on that two- to three-year-old formula.

"I wouldn't call it an England template. I just picked the best players from the four countries as I saw fit at the time."

Woodward would recommend that "whoever's going to be in charge in four years' time, you maybe need a little bit longer to get to know the players and the teams, and I probably had a bigger advantage than anyone this year, because you really don't know these players until you start working with them. And I think you're bound to go with the people maybe you know a little bit better, and it can be a plus and it can be a minus."

Brian O'Driscoll yesterday sought to bury the hatchet to some extent with his All Blacks counterpart, Tana Umaga, saying: "I still regard him as a superb player and I'd still go and have a beer with him."

Umaga could be heard on television shouting an expletive immediately after the full-time whistle, but shortly afterwards, O'Driscoll's replacement as captain, Gareth Thomas, maintained there was no vendetta against Umaga.

"There was no revenge, as people were talking about. There was nothing going on between us; we didn't go out to target him; we didn't go out to do anything against him. It was just a quality game of rugby."

Josh Lewsey concurred with Thomas in calling the All Blacks the best team in the world. "They're challenging the way the game is played, not becoming predictable in attack. To use that cheesy phrase, fortune favours the brave, and Wales showed this year that if you have the mentality over the course of the 80 minutes, especially if you have the skill level and the execution to put that away, then you're going to win some games, and I think it was a lesson today in how to play modern rugby.

"On an individual level they were better than us. It comes down to their mentality. I thought I was going to get a badge for running the width of the pitch," quipped Lewsey, who admitted he felt like he was chasing shadows.

It will be some relief to the Lions that Carter won't be there, and with his understudy Mauger also ruled out, assistant coach Steve Hansen hinted that Leon MacDonald might be moved into the outhalf role.

The Lions team to face Auckland in the final midweek game at Eden Park tomorrow has four Irishmen, with Geordan Murphy destined to make his sixth start of the tour while once again being kept out of the Test picture.

A good performance by Gordon D'Arcy would be timely given Henson might now be adding to the midfield casualty list. Then again it's hard to know how this selection could be interpreted, with Ronan O'Gara on the bench again, as is Shane Horgan for the fifth time on tour. Curiously, Horgan has still started only one game, match two against Taranaki.

Auckland, whom Ian McGeechan readily rates as the Lions' toughest provincial opponents, have still to finalise their selection, but in the absence of their unwell captain, Xavier Rush, look like playing their clutch of current Junior All Blacks, including Joe Rokocoko.