Woodward hails Welsh wonders

Sir Clive Woodward has heaped praise on the Welsh contingent in his British & Irish Lions squad - and predicted more glory for Mike Ruddock's Grand Slam stars. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

Sir Clive Woodward has heaped praise on the Welsh contingent in his British & Irish Lions squad – and predicted more glory for Mike Ruddock’s Grand Slam stars.

Woodward also revealed there would be a "strong Welsh representation" in his team for the first Test against New Zealand next Saturday, although that will not include surprise omission Gavin Henson.

Wing Gareth Thomas, scrum-half Dwayne Peel and prop Gethin Jenkins appear safe bets to face the All Blacks when Woodward announces the side on Wednesday, while centre Henson will start against Southland in Invercargill on Tuesday.

But number eight Ryan Jones, who was not even in New Zealand a week ago having been overlooked by Woodward for the original 45-man tour party, and wing Shane Williams added their names to the mix with outstanding displays during Saturday’s impressive 30-19 victory over Otago.

Woodward, though, claimed he was not surprised by an abundance of Welsh quality that is shining bright in All Blacks country.

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"I saw them operate behind the scenes at their training base last November, and they are doing some fantastic things," he said.

"Mike Ruddock is setting up something pretty special, and I wasn’t surprised they won the Grand Slam. Their second-half performance against France in Paris was probably one of the best-ever.

"To a man, these guys are fantastic to work with. They are just so professional, and all very focused young men.

"I don’t think that Grand Slam was a one-off – they’re setting some high standards."

A tour-ending injury to Scottish back-row star Simon Taylor opened the door for Jones, and he promptly barged it down by thrusting himself into Test squad contention.

Whether Woodward will deviate from his probable Test back-row of Richard Hill, Neil Back and Martin Corry is unlikely, yet 24-year-old Jones must surely have a part to play at some stage against the All Blacks during the three-game series, possibly beginning on the bench next weekend.

The Neath-Swansea Ospreys forward scored a try and was hugely influential in all key areas as the Lions emerged unscathed from their trip to Otago’s so-called ‘House of Pain’.

"Ryan is happy to play six or eight," added Woodward.

"He took his chance, and well done to him. He is a good example of a Welsh player not being fazed by anything."

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