Donal Lenihan has revealed the lack of cooperation that he and Graham Henry received from Clive Woodward when they led the British & Irish Lions to Australia in 2001.
Former Ireland captain and manager Lenihan was the Lions manager for the 2001 series against the Wallabies and in his memoir, My Life in Rugby, which was launched last night in Cork, the Irish Examiner columnist recalls the rancour that existed between the then England coach Woodward and his appointee Henry.
Lenihan had, as a player, toured with the Lions three times and played with future World Cup-winning England coach Woodward on the 1983 tour to New Zealand. Yet, concerns about the Englishman’s lack of input on the training field and his preference to take a more managerial role with his home nation led the Irishman to appoint then Wales coach Henry, a New Zealander, for the tour to Australia 15 years ago.
After initial moves to reappoint 1997 series-winning Lions head coach Ian McGeechan failed, Lenihan writes that Woodward was his next choice, but his research led him to the conclusion that England’s assistants did all the coaching.
“I appointed Henry, and Woodward was raging,” writes Lenihan. “His nose was out of joint from the outset. There was to be rancour from day one.”
When Scotland No 8 Simon Taylor suffered a potentially tour-ending injury in the opening tour game in Perth, the Lions management made contingency plans to call up England’s Martin Corry — on tour with Woodward and his country in Canada — and the bad blood continued. Woodward was asked to keep the development confidential, as Taylor had not yet been ruled out by the Lions, but Lenihan says the news was leaked to the English media from the Canada tour and he said the England coach continued to snipe.
The book also sees Lenihan call on rugby’s governing authorities to continue their bid to reduce an ever-increasing injury count he says the game is inflicting on its participants.
He writes of his concerns for the future of the sport he has been involved in for the best part of five decades in a chapter entitled Too Big, Too Fast, Too Strong, writes movingly of his first-hand experience of the devastating consequences of the sport he loves, citing the death of his schoolboy friend, CBC and UCC team-mate Fergus Barrett in March 1989 as a result of an injury he sustained during a ruck eight years previously.
He also explains his fears for the long-term consequences that the big hits of the modern game may bring and he calls for front-row substitutions to be only permissible for independently-vouched injuries in order to prevent collisions between “23-stone behemoths” fresh off the bench and fatiguing players.
“Rugby as a sport is at a crossroads,” writes Lenihan. “It was never meant to have the physical shapes playing the game that it has now.
“For the first time, I think we are going into an era where many parents would be happier not to have their kids playing rugby.”
Lenihan believes the issue is more concerning in the northern hemisphere, saying the game north of the equator “has to evolve”.
“In the southern hemisphere it’s about evasion, whereas we seem more intent on the collision... but the smart teams such as New Zealand look to keep the ball alive.
“The All Blacks in recent years have actually downsized their forwards, opting instead for more mobility and higher skill levels.”
Hundreds of guests joined Lenihan and some of his international teams mates in Cork Constitution last night for the occasion. My Life In Rugby was formally launched by Michael Kiernan and Moss Finn. It is available from today, published by Transworld and priced at €24.99.
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