Woodward eyeing win against the odds

Sir Clive Woodward has labelled the All Blacks world rugby's most professional team. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

Sir Clive Woodward has labelled the All Blacks world rugby’s most professional team.

Woodward will send his British & Irish Lions into first-Test battle at Jade Stadium on Saturday knowing New Zealand are perceived as favourites for a game forecast to be fought out in heavy rain and strong winds.

But while the Christchurch weather looks set to change dramatically following a week of winter sunshine, Woodward’s All Blacks assessment hasn’t deviated one bit.

"Common sense says we should not win because we are up against the most professional team in the world in terms of New Zealand," he said.

"They have fantastic players and top coaches. They’ve been developing as a team, and we have just thrown this together and everybody wants us to win.

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"But I know I am here with a very well-prepared team, and the best players from four countries, and I think we have half a chance."

The pressure will be at a level that probably only England’s World Cup-winning contingent in this Lions squad have experienced before, with huge performances expected from the likes of inside centre Jonny Wilkinson, prop Julian White, flanker Neil Back and number eight Martin Corry.

Tour statistics show five wins from six starts, but none of those victories were achieved with any great pomp or swagger, unlike the 2001 Lions’ first-Test build-up that culminated in a spectacular 29-13 triumph against Australia.

Woodward, though, is quietly confident and characteristically upbeat.

"Pressure is a great word, because you know some people thrive on it and sometimes some people think they thrive on it, and when it really comes, they are not really as good as they think," he added.

"That is why I am pleased with the Lions team. We have very good people who have won World Cups, and the Welsh last season really delivered with their (Six Nations) Grand Slam.

"They played 40 minutes against France in Paris which I think is the best 40 minutes of rugby I have ever seen, and that was when I knew the Welsh revival was really on.

"I just think you are at your best when the pressure is at its greatest, and that is the true definition of champion sportspeople. It is about playing under pressure, as the importance of this game is huge."

A Lions victory would set them up for only their second Test series success over New Zealand in almost 100 years, but the history books show just three Test match wins on the South Island, compared with 12 defeats.

And they’ve only successfully stormed Christchurch on one previous occasion – July 9, 1977 – when a J J Williams try and three Phil Bennett penalties saw the Lions home 13-9.

Test vice-captain Corry has no doubt about the enormity of a task some observers feel will prove beyond Woodward’s Lions.

"Look at the first two games we had in Australia in 2001 – we played poorly, and scored nearly 200 points," he said.

"On this tour, we looked at the itinerary and the boys were saying ‘where is the 100-pointer here, then?’

"We always knew it was going to be an incredibly tough tour, and the provincial teams aren’t playing their international players, so for them to perform so well without those players just shows the depth of New Zealand rugby.

"We came out here knowing exactly what the stakes are. We came out as a scratch side, and that puts us at a huge disadvantage. We have to start from zero and build into a side capable of taking on the best team in the world."

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