Time is a healer, as they say, but it seems for those who toured with the British and Irish Lions back in 2005, the pain of the All Black whitewash they endured, is still as raw as ever.
Twelve years on and the Lions have returned to the site of their most humiliating tour in living memory. It wasn’t just the 3-0 series defeat to New Zealand that made it memorable for all the wrong reasons, it the manner of each defeat.
In fact, much of the tour was an exercise in humiliation for Sir Clive Woodward and his squad of 44 Lions. Choosing to split the squad in two from the outset, Woodward created a midweek squad and a Test squad, in order to allow each group focus on their respective tasks at hand.
The midweek camp appeared to have a grand old time, bonding and generally making the positive memories that fans have come to expect from the famous tour. In stark contract for the Test camp, however, the ever-increasing pressure to win caused a toxic environment that saw the Lions hopes wither and die.
Now, ahead of the 2017 Lions’ opening match of their ten-game tour, former England and Lions out-half Jonny Wilkinson has issued a stern warning to Warren Gatland and his squad.
Reported by the Guardian, the World Cup winner remembers back to the 2005 tour,
“… I’d never seen such chaos. We had 12 of us in rucks at times. We were literally all over the place.
“They pulled us apart. At times I was defending against five people. I was just picking one and thinking: ‘You’re getting it.’ As soon as I saw the pass leave the hand I just had to guess. I remember twice choosing the right bloke and whacking into them.
“How many times in rugby now do you see a five- or six-man overlap? Never. There were four or five in that first Test in the first half. It was pissing down with rain and windy as well. New Zealand were doing well but even they were thinking: ‘What’s happening here?’”
Following Woodward’s failed experiment in 2005, Wilkinson believes Gatland must keep his approach simple,
“The Lions have to be absolutely clear. They need to have fewer things to do but be absolutely clear on each of them. Then they can break out of that from time to time and do amazing stuff.”
Only touching down on New Zealand soil three days before their match with the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, Wilkinson singles out the need for unity within the squad.
“[Gatland’s role] is about bringing them together. In that short space of time, it is about understanding general principles, choosing combinations and then feeding the energy so the guys are ready to go.
“They don’t need to know that if he runs that line, it goes behind him and then we should be able to get the offload away. If the guys go into the game with a very solid platform but excited about attack then I think they will do incredible things. If they go in with a complicated plan I think they will get pulled apart.”
After a wait of 46 years, the British and Irish Lions have a chance once more, to overcome the double-defending world champions in their backyard and secure a famous Test series.
As ever with the mighty All Blacks, the challenge is immense and you might forgive fans if some are hoping that things just don’t go as badly as the last time the famous jersey lined out in New Zealand.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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