13 Apr

Its An April Fool or Off With His Head!
by Colin Johnston
13 Apr 2005

Off With His Head!

Can history repeat itself? Can Clive Woodward take his England 2003 World Cup winning squad to the Southern Hemisphere and win with the 2005 English, whoops sorry, British Lions?

No of course not. Sir Clive doesn’t have Johnny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson. Instead, he opted for his security blanket of 20 England internationalists in his Lions squad. Some of these are retired from international duty and some, that saw the way the wind was blowing, jumped before they were pushed. Other have failed to play since then and some have been persistently injured. But, make no mistake, this Lions squad is England ’03 revisited and Woodward has taken his chums for one last ‘Huzzah!’. The Lions’ selection smacks of arrogance, xenophobia and a level of myopia that hasn’t been witnessed since Mr McGoo to took the screens in his comical bubble car. This England outfit has stuttered, farted, wheezed, bleated moaned and bitched its way to two successive crap 6 Nations and a Southern Hemisphere white wash since the heady days of Wilco’s injury time drop goal. Clearly, Sir Clive wasn’t watching those matches.

Lets look at some of the personalities that Sir Clive has taken along. If you start anywhere it has to be the most over rated, underperforming internationalist in the Northern Hemisphere. Step forward Steve Thompson, hooker. In the 6 Nations this year he added a new dimension to every other teams line out stats by regularly missing his man but unerringly finding the opposition. He gifted France and Ireland penalties and generally took England’s lineout to a record low. Impartial viewers thought he would struggle to get on the plane, but not Sir Clive. Thompson is not a patch on the player he was in 2003 and the hype of being an RWC winner and what that is all about clearly has gone to his head.

Next up, the best stand up comic on British gameshow TV, yes its Matt Dawson. Matt was voted this accolade by my 12 year old son,s mini rugby team on their tour bus recently. He was so pleased with the honour, when they told him,he gifted them his rugby mits, nice one, Matt. For those that don’t know, Matt ‘I’m not available for England training because of my TV commitments’ Dawson places a greater priority on TV appearances than training duty with his country. He declared himself unavailable to train but okay to play. The biggest irony here is the Woodward ostensibly resigned as England coach because he couldn’t get the players for training as much as he wanted due to their club commitments. Hypocricy? Contradiction? Come on Clive ‘Give Us a Clue’ (Oops that’s another gameshow – cue for Matt!) No, Matt was in RWC ’03 so it doesn’t count – my mistake. Harry Ellis, England’s starting half back and Andy Gomersal, England’s other RWC halfback don’t even get a mention. I feel sorry for them as they are the best in their country. Maybe Dawson has some dirty photos of Woodward, who knows?

Then we move to the main event. The selection that redefines arrogance and misplaced loyalty. Yep, its Dallaglio, Hill and Back. They had an excellent RWC but now 2 have retired from international duty and one is constantly on the injured list. Everyone has been singing big Lawrence’s praises this year at club level. No surprises there though is there? He isn’t playing internationalist backrows every week and he is playing 30% less games as he isn’t on international duty. Oh, did we mention his club, the former holders got an early exit from Europe this season so even less games to play?

Neil Back, who ignominiously got the Order of the Boot from Woodward last year and retired from England in the huff, complete with recriminations and name calling, is straight into the Lions squad. This is amazing as the last time he played in NZ he was 2 yards off the pace and that was 2 years ago. McCaw and Co must be relishing seeing him trotting out on to the paddock. This year Back hasn’t held his club place, never mind getting a shout from the Lions. Lewis Moody, his replacement at Leicester, is yards faster and on the plane anyway, so why take Neil Back? An apology for last year’s England exit, a final pay day – can’t be more dirty photos, surely? We shall never know.

Richard Hill, exemplary player that he is, had approximately 120 minutes of rugby to prove to Woodward that he can tour with the Lions. The likes of Jason White, Johnny O’Conner et al that have had an outstanding season at club and international level must be gutted.

Is it me or do you think Sir Clive is trying to say sorry and give his old chums one last pay day before they are forced to call time on their professional careers? This is the British Lions not some benefit tour for semi-retired warhorses, for Christ’s sake, Clive.

In all honesty, Graham Henry was a crap Lions coach in 2001, absolutely no doubt about it. We in the UK can only hope Henry is as divisive to the All Blacks as he was the Lions but somehow I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it. He split the Lions squad and eliminated any chance they might have had to build team spirit. Matt Dawson (he of TV gameshow fame) and others were reduced to reporting the squads discontent in the papers back in the UK and the whole thing degenerated into a shambles.

Woodward has however gone with another tactic. He has gone for polarisation, them and us Celts and Poms. Winning the Grand Slam or the Triple Crown doesn’t count. Being English is the precursor to getting on Sir Clive squad. Undoubtedly, we shall have the most polarised squad ever with cliques established before we even start that will not be easy to break down. We will have the England ’03 troops with their toadying acolytes that have come into the frame since then. We shall have the Welsh, nursing a grievance that they won the Grand Slam and have been largely ignored and we will have the Irish and the 3 Scots that Woodward has taken along to hold the tackle pads. Advantage NZ? I would say so. It will be so easy for the NZ media and coaching staff to start driving wedges into the very framework and spirit that is the British Lions. Result? Three test wins to the All Blacks.

What then do we do with the omnipotent Woodward on his return to Britain? In days gone by the fate of treasonous knights was a short time in the Tower and then they got the chop. Now, in the 21st Century apparently this is a wee bit extreme for the bleeding heart liberals amongst us. Personally, I say it depends how bad the results are. So what is a just punishment for a treacherous knave these days? Woodward should, as a minimum, get his knighthood revoked and then spend the rest of his life coaching soccer at a girls school. Joking apart, his next job is coaching an also ran soccer team in England’s Premiership. God help them when Dallaglio, Back and Hill pitch up for preseason training!

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