Warren Gatland will tackle New Zealand with ‘larger squad’

Clive Woodward was panned for assembling the largest ever British and Irish Lions touring party 11 years ago, but he believes Warren Gatland will tackle New Zealand next summer with an even larger assembly of men.
Warren Gatland will tackle New Zealand with ‘larger squad’

Forty-four players made the squad back in 2005 and Woodward called up a further seven before the tour was out. Add in a management team stretching to 26 and it made for an unwieldy operation.

Most controversial of all was his decision to operate with two distinct teams under different management setups, something which was viewed as alien to the collective ethos on which previous Lions tours were built.

However, the 2003 World Cup-winning manager was unrepentant about that approach when speaking at the One-Zero conference and he warned that Gatland faces an unenviable task against the world champions in 2017.

“My thoughts were very clear,” he said of 2005. “I am really looking forward to see how Gatland does this. The fixture list that the Lions have this year is a lot tougher than any other.

“I’ve got a huge amount of time for Gatland for taking this job on and there is no doubt but that Gatland will have thought ‘is this job good for my career?’ I’m pleased he is because he went to Australia and won and he is the right guy to go.”

Woodward’s Lions lost that test series 3-0 to the All Blacks. It was the touring party’s first whitewash since 1983 and Gatland has already gone on record to say that lessons have been learned.

Gatland has spoken about the excess of Englishmen on that squad, the preconceived notion of the starting test team and the use of Alistair Campbell in a PR role and insists that the first trip to New Zealand since will be very different.

Woodward isn’t so sure.

“I absolutely hated losing with the Lions,” he explained. “I’m probably still not over it now. I couldn’t handle defeat but when I look at it logically: would I do anything differently? No.

“Was it the right thing to take two teams, two coaching teams? Yes. I want to see how they do it this time because I think they will do the same thing. That’s your only chance of doing it.”

A polished public speaker, Woodward touched on a number of areas in a multi-faceted sporting life that has included a spell with Southampton FC, a role with the British Olympic team and a current brief building an altitude centre for skiers.

Inevitably perhaps, one of the most interesting chapters came from his most famous meeting with Ireland: The ‘red carpet’ game in 2003 when Martin Johnson refused to switch sides for president Mary McAleese during the pre-game niceties.

“It was just one of these things that started it. When you play away in the Six Nations it is quite childish what happens. The number one for childishness is Scotland. Followed by Ireland in terms of people trying to give you grief and a hard time.

“They must have committees on how can you really wind England up.”

It began, he claimed, the day before a game which both needed to win to claim a Grand Slam when the groundsmen at Lansdowne Road attempted to usher England off the field after they overshot their allotted training time.

The next day and it was an unknown Irishman banging at the door 10 minutes before kick-off demanding they take to the field. England demurred, waited for the referee’s summons and then Johnson went and stood where he did.

“Johnno said ‘you can do what you like, we’re not going’.”

Woodward approved.

“I thought it was amazing. I thought it was fantastic. That was a pressure moment and he handled it really well.”

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