Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It's Age before Beauty as Woodward Plays It Safe; Lions Unleash Grandad's Army on All Blacks

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It's Age before Beauty as Woodward Plays It Safe; Lions Unleash Grandad's Army on All Blacks

Article excerpt


SIR CLIVE WOODWARD will unleash a British and Irish Lions squad boasting more than 1,000 caps against the All Blacks in Saturday's First Test in Christchurch.

Woodward has become so obsessed with combating the threat posed by New Zealand that he has chosen a breadth of experience the hosts cannot match.

Brian O'Driscoll will lead out a Lions XV that has played in a combined total of 686 Tests, with another 318 international outings among the seven replacements who are going to have key roles to play in a match they cannot afford to lose.

The All Blacks team have 420 Test caps.

Head coach Woodward has turned to the players he knows best: the England team he led to World Cup triumph in 2003.

Despite the passing of time, he is adamant the men who helped gain him a knighthood still have enough gas left in the tank.

Six of the players that started the World Cup Final against Australia are in the team, headed by 36-year-old Neil Back who is joined by Richard Hill, Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Jonny Wilkinson and Ben Kay. Three more - Matt Dawson, Will Greenwood and Steve Thompson - are among the replacements.

There should have been a 10th World Cup winner on duty but a broken ankle forced London Wasps captain Lawrence Dallaglio to head home early.

Only Ryan Jones, the 24-year-old Wales No8, has forced Woodward to change his original thinking after making a sensational try-scoring debut against Otago last weekend.

Jones only joined the tour as a replacement for the injured Simon Taylor but the Lions recognised they could not go into this First Test without utilising the 6ft 5in, 19st forward's talents from the bench.

Woodward was accused of selecting a 'Grandad's Army' as he attempts to coach only the second Lions squad to win a Test series in New Zealand and he has maintained that perception with this team.

When coaching England, Woodward insisted that form and fitness were the only viable criteria that could be used and, patently, he has changed his thinking because neither Wilkinson nor Robinson are operating at their best. The same can be said for captain O'Driscoll. However, Wilkinson was never going to pay any price for having missed so much rugby since the World Cup Final while Robinson has a track record of raising his game when faced with a serious challenge.

A Test series with New Zealand fits into that category and Robinson will know that unless he repeats the tryscoring excellence we saw in the First Test of the 2001 Lions series with Australia, he will be dropped.

By opting for Wilkinson at centre, Woodward is playing a hunch. The Newcastle star last played a Test at centre in 1999 before clinching the No10 jersey. Now he is operating outside Stephen Jones, the man who guided Wales to Grand Slam glory, and both will be expected to boot the Lions deep into All Blacks territory. …

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