Jump to main content


Whither the Lions in Woodward saga?

Whither the Lions in Woodward saga?

There is much speculation in the wind as to how Sir Clive Woodward’s resignation as England rugby coach and recent comments will affect his future as coach of the British and Irish Lions.

There is much speculation in the wind as to how Sir Clive Woodward’s resignation as England rugby coach and recent comments will affect his future as coach of the British and Irish Lions.

The only comment emanating from the Lions camp thus far has been from Lions Chief Executive, John Feehan, who insists that Woodward’s resignation from England has ‘changed nothing’ as far as the Lions are concerned.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

‘There is a lot of speculation about what we will do next but we can only react to facts. If something came up which interfered with Clive’s ability to do his job with the Lions properly, we would have to consider it’, said Feehan.

‘The only thing which could affect his position is if he accepted another position which took up the bulk of his time, but from our talks with him that is highly unlikely to be the case.’

Woodward’s short-term future appears to consist of being a part-time motivational and organisational consultant to Southampton Football Club. Presumably, he will be signed up to a football coaching course in order to achieve his professional coaching licence within two years. Some would argue that this will, in fact, give him more time to devote to the Lions cause in the coming months. And where is it written that the Lions coach must be a current national coach?

But this misses the bigger point at issue. Sir Clive gave an interview to Business Life earlier this month in which he is reported as saying, ‘My whole background is in football. I love football and I go to as many games as I possibly can. I never had that passion for rugby I have for football. I never got into rugby in the same way’.

Apart from the fact that he sounded like a turkey voting for Christmas (though clearly one that expected to have flown the coop in mid-December), it is surely damaging to the game that a man knighted for his services to the country delivered through the medium of rugby should say these things.

The British and Irish Lions are the world’s premier touring team. They are to rugby what the Ryder Cup is to golf. Can you imagine Bernhard Langer effectively saying on the eve of the Ryder Cup that he’d rather be fishing?

Rugby is going to look pretty sheepish in the international sporting world and this isn’t likely to sit comfortably with men of substance such as Syd Millar. Nor is it likely to sit very comfortably with the men who will be asked to dredge forth the last dregs of passion from within themselves, come the first test in New Zealand.

If the Lions committee do indeed grasp that nettle, what is the likely upshot for the Lions? It might be interesting to undertake a process of elimination and see who’s left. Firstly, the Welsh Rugby Union had placed an embargo on their coaches participating in the tour in the support coaching positions. So it’s highly unlikely that the coach will come from the Principality. And, in any event, Mike Ruddock doesn’t have the international experience, and given that he never got the top job at home, nor does Gareth Jenkins.
Matt Williams isn’t a runner because, quite apart from Scotland’s form and results, after the Graham Henry experience the Lions are unlikely to take to the Antipodes again with an Antipodean coach. For the same reasons, we can pretty much discount the ‘form coach’, Warren Gatland.

Which leaves us really with only two credible candidates – Ian McGeechan and our own Eddie O’Sullivan.

McGeechan is steeped in Lions lore and has already made himself available for the Lions tour as a back-up to Sir Clive. He is the man in pole position, should the need arise. However, there may be some who feel that his time is past. His latter years with the Scotland team, admittedly playing a poor hand in terms of the talent at his disposal, had a rather tired and stale feel to them.

Which brings us to Eddie O’Sullivan. The Ireland coach has had a highly successful run in terms of results, having secured the Triple Crown last year. Indeed, over the duration of his tenure, Ireland have shown themselves to consistently outperform expectations, winning as many matches in the 6 Nations over the last three years as England. He is currently involved in the ever-changing world of international coaching and he has an attention to detail that would rival Woodward’s given the same resources.

Would he command the respect of the non-Irish players? It’s hard to see how the Scots and Welsh wouldn’t grant him the respect due to his achievements. The English may have a rump of those who feel that their man, whoever that might be, should be in the position. But at the current rate of English implosion, it’s not certain that the English will form the core of the Lions group as they would have expected to a year ago.

Also, with Bill Beaumont already installed as Lions manager, it is not as if the English won’t be heavily involved in the tour leadership. It will be pointed out that successful Lions tours of the past have had a very mixed leadership in terms of nationalities, and indeed have been most successful when the English haven’t had their hands on the tiller.

Interesting times. Planet Rugby’s advice to O’Sullivan is that he ‘would be wise to remain close to a telephone over the course of the next few days.’