Sir Clive Woodward reveals the ups and downs of coaching the 2005 Lions
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 25/12/18 7:34am
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports on a special Christmas edition of the Will Greenwood Podcast, Sir Clive Woodward spoke openly and honestly about his experiences of coaching the Lions on their 3-0 series defeat to New Zealand in 2005.
"I can look myself in the mirror and say I threw the kitchen sink at this [Lions 2005 tour to New Zealand]," Woodward said.
"I didn't apply for the Lions job, because I had always had a bit of an issue with the Lions. With England, I was just all about England, and thought the Lions got in our way.
"So I spent all my time really knocking the Lions because I think they do distract a team that's trying to win a World Cup.
"I got offered the job and thought that I should do it because I was the World Cup winning coach, they wanted me to do it, so I did it and I did it to the best of my ability.
"I tried to do it a little bit differently, I took a big squad, but at the end of the day, why we lost was, number one: that All Blacks team was special - I've seen some special teams, been lucky enough to coach one amazing team in 2003, but that 2005 All Blacks team was them at their best.
"It was an amazing team, they didn't have a single injury, they were right on their game and they were also playing at home.
"And if I could have picked my team that I wanted to play when I agreed to do this [job] 18 months out, like Wilkinson at his best, O'Driscoll at his best, O'Connell, Dallaglio at his best, I absolutely thought we could win.
"But when it came to it, and you just have to look at that first Test match, most of those players weren't there for whatever reason: injured, didn't make it, O'Driscoll gone in the first 30 seconds.
"At the end of the day, to win in New Zealand you've got to go down there with your absolute gun team, and you've got half a chance. But if you're not quite there for lots of reasons, you're going to get beat.
"As I say to everyone: the Lions had been there 10 times and lost nine, so I wasn't exactly going against the trend but gee, I got a lot of feedback from the media!"
Former England international and 2003 World Cup-winner Greenwood represented the Lions on tours to South Africa in 1997, Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005.
Yet despite his experiences of playing in the jersey, Greenwood concurred with his former coach's view on the Lions.
"The point I would pick up, and I think it's really important in the modern day and couldn't agree more, is that the Lions totally disrupts a national team's chances of winning a World Cup," Greenwood said.
"You've got a four-year cycle, and in the middle of that four-year cycle you're asking lads to peak and do a massive 40-week season."
Woodward added: "I'm just saying, and it's almost like the club v country, you're never going to get the right answer out of this, but from the Lions' point of view, I think the Lions is brilliant.
"I can fully understand it as a fan, I've played for the Lions, I've coached for the Lions, I get it.
"But if you're the England rugby coach and in your job description where you're going to get judged is winning a World Cup, are the Lions a good thing or a bad thing? They're a massive distraction.
"It's a huge distraction. I don't think [Iain] Balshaw recovered from the  Lions tour, Ben Cohen wasn't quite the same player.
"We lost a bit of momentum there and we actually played a Grand Slam game and just got through it because we had a great team. But would I say you are in a better position to win a World Cup because of the Lions? Honestly, hand on heart, no."
In the current global calendar, the Lions have consistently and openly fought for more time together and an earlier release of players from domestic competitions.
As a key point of difference in sport, however, and one of the greatest spectacles present in elite rugby, is the Lions not something which should be dearly cherished?
"I love the Lions and I don't want anything to disrupt the Lions. But I really want a northern hemisphere team to win the World Cup in Japan as well," Woodward said.
"For me, the World Cup is massively more important [than the Lions].
"If England or Ireland or Wales can win...if one of the home nations can win the World Cup, I'm going: 'Point proven, no problem at all.'
"But what I'd say is, my big worry is still New Zealand. I think they learnt a huge amount by playing the Lions a couple of years out from the World Cup. They're still rebuilding and I have this feeling they're going to turn up in Japan as the real gun team.
"I want England to win, but I also want a northern hemisphere team to win, including France. We just need to break this cycle again, which has been too long since 2003 and I want a northern hemisphere team to win it."
Click here to listen to the full episode as Sir Clive Woodward joins Greenwood and Rupert Cox to discuss his time in charge of England, the 2005 Lions tour, Japan 2019 and all things rugby in this Christmas special.