Lions 'must make the right choice of skipper'

CLIVE WOODWARD is in no hurry to appoint a captain for next summer's Lions tour to New Zealand but insisted Martin Johnson's successor must be a Test certainty.

Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll is the current favourite to head the cream of British and Irish rugby against the All Blacks - but that owes as much to a lack of any outstanding alternatives as his own leadership skills.

Injury and a loss of form casts a shadow over England World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson while Scotland's Gordon Bulloch and Wales' Gareth Thomas are newcomers to international captaincy and are unlikely choices.

Woodward will thus wait until the end of next year's RBS 6 Nations before deciding who should fill arguably the most crucial position on the tour - but emphasised there can be no doubts that whoever lands the job will feature against the All Blacks.

He said: "The identity of the Lions captain is very, very important and is one of the things I'm thinking about.

"I'll talk to the national coaches about their views on the captaincy.

"The captain is key but we have to wait to see the player's form before making any decisions. The biggest thing about the captain is the guy has to deserve his place in the team - that is absolutely critical. People get injured and lose form so it would be wrong to ink in a captain until you've seen the guys in action during the Autumn internationals and the Six Nations. It doesn't matter if he comes from the backs or the forwards. It's down to personality. The biggest thing is the whole squad must know the captain will always be in the Test line-up.

"Then you start looking at all the other aspects of leadership. It's a very important role in terms of bringing the four nations together. You have to get it right and there's no rush to pick someone."

Woodward has not pulled any punches in his criticism of the 2001 tour to Australia after several of his England players returned from the 2-1 series defeat disenchanted with life as a Lion.

A clear division emerged between the Test and midweek side almost before the squad had departed for Australia and Woodward is determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of Graham Henry four years ago. "The coaching of the midweek side is the biggest thing that needs to be addressed following the 2001 tour," he said.

"If you look at the itinerary, the Lions will be playing Saturday-Wednesday, Saturday-Wednesday. When we play on a Saturday there will be a management team of 13-14 people looking after the opposition.

"We then play a totally different team on the Wednesday and there will be another 13-14 people looking after them. All we're doing is matching exactly what the opposition will have.

"In 2001 the midweek people weren't being looked after properly because the coaches were concentrating on the Test side - and rightly so.

"By bringing in Ian McGeechan, Gareth Jenkins and Mike Ford, the midweek players know they have some of the best coaches in the world looking after them and they've got every chance of making the Test team.

"That will make a huge, huge difference. You just can't go from match to match with the same coaching team.

"I'm trying to put something in place that will see Lions rugby get stronger and stronger."

Woodward was speaking at yesterday's launch of the official Lions shirt - made by adidas - for the tour. The jersey features a revolutionary moisture management system which should help players cope with the harsh weather conditions expected in New Zealand, is form fitted and the strongest adidas have ever made. Woodward said: "The shirt is fundamental to the success of the tour and it's important that we know we're going out there with the best on the market."

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