Woodward defends touring squad

British & Irish Lions chief Sir Clive Woodward has defended the size of his New Zealand touring party. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

British & Irish Lions chief Sir Clive Woodward has defended the size of his New Zealand touring party.

Woodward took a record 45 players on the 11-game New Zealand tour, and that figure reached 50 through the arrival of replacements Simon Shaw, Simon Easterby, Ryan Jones, Brent Cockbain and Jason White.

And Woodward, whose squad face a Test series whitewash against the All Blacks if they lose at Eden Park on Saturday, has no doubt it was the right approach to take.

"If we didn’t have these numbers, especially with something like a citing (of Graham Rowntree) which could have gone against us, we just wouldn’t be able to put out a competitive team at the weekend," he said.

"It is beyond me how anyone can question the numbers, especially when you see the intensity of the game against Auckland on Tuesday. You just can’t ask many of those players to back-up on a continued basis on a tour like this.

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"I am not looking for vindication, I am just looking for everyone to get everything in perspective.

"I spent a long, long time planning this trip, looking at the fixtures, realising the quality of the opposition we were playing against and fully understanding, as a professional coach, how the game has changed.

"I am bitterly disappointed about the Test matches, that was the key goal. Outside of that, everything I have put in place in terms of the coaching team, the management team and numbers has totally and utterly paid off."

Woodward’s third-Test plans have been hit by injuries to Jonny Wilkinson, Gavin Henson, Charlie Hodgson, Andrew Sheridan, Ollie Smith and Ben Kay, who are all out of contention.

"For people to sit there and try and tell me you can come on this tour with 33, 34 players, well we are going to argue all night. You just can’t do that," said Woodward.

"The game has changed. It’s protecting players to a certain degree, and it is a case of putting perspective on this. I see what is being written, and I just shake my head.

"The two Test matches were huge disappointments, especially when that was the number one priority why we came here. It was all planned to try and give the team the best chance of preparing to win those first two Test matches and, clearly, we got that part of it wrong.

"If I had my time again, I would ask the Lions to put in cotton wool the top 22 players, play no games and just get them ready for that first Test match. But I think they would turn that down, and rightly so, because it would be the end of Lions touring as we know it.

"I can understand what large sections of the media are saying, and I guess if I was sitting in their chairs, I would be saying the same things.

"However, sitting in my chair and understanding what has to happen with a professional player, I believe what we put in place was spot-on."

Woodward claimed that injuries had taken a toll, adding: "If everyone had stayed fit, there might have been an argument about the numbers.

"But I didn’t expect that to happen, purely when I saw the games we were playing every week. Statistically, it was never going to happen, and it hasn’t.

"We’ve actually got more injuries than I ever thought we would get, and we lost some very high-profile players who I thought would be in the Test team, people like (Lawrence) Dallaglio, (Brian) O’Driscoll and (Malcolm) O’Kelly."

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