Sir Clive Woodward was the last man to select a Lions side to tour New Zealand in 2005, and although he is now no longer part of the selection process he maintains a very optimistic attitude towards the Lions’ chances against the men in black.
So who would Woodward select in 2017?
The blame for the disastrous 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand in which the visitors were soundly beaten 3-0, was laid at the feet of Woodward, who was regarded as being ‘too mesmerised by self-regard’ after his World Cup triumph to recognise the challenge ahead of him.
Woodward endured a turbulent time down under in 2005, and was criticised by then assistant coach Ian McGeechan among others for his impersonal coach methods, taking too many players (51 played in the tour), separating the teams into midweek and test teams and employing an enormous management team -including seven coaches.
Woodward was also criticised for his rigid loyalty in selecting English players he had coached. In his 2017 lineup in the Daily Mail, he shows that his Red Rose fervour remains, with 16 players selected in the main squad from the Six Nations-winning side.
However, Ireland (eleven players) and Wales (ten players) are also strongly represented with Scotland faring less well with only Stuart Hogg making the main squad. Some curious omissions include his non-selection of Jack Nowell in the back three, Courtney Lawes at lock and no English players at all amongst the flankers.
He also found room for some players who were less popular picks in other hypothetical Lions squads such as Chris Ashton, Leigh Halfpenny and Toby Faletau.
Here is Woodward’s Lions squad to take on the All Blacks:
Stuart Hogg (Sco), Leigh Halfpenny (Wal), Liam Williams (Wal), George North (Wal), Anthony Watson (Eng), Chris Ashton (Eng). Reserve: Tommy Seymour (Sco).
Woodward: “Hogg is an exceptional talent.”
Jonathan Joseph (Eng), Garry Ringrose (Ire), Elliot Daly (Eng).
Woodward: “Good strength here. Jonathan Joseph — brilliant one day, not so brilliant the next.”
Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Jonathan Davies (Wal). Reserve: Alex Dunbar (Sco).
Woodward: “Owen Farrell is the first choice 12 but I am going to list him at No 10 for reasons I will explain.”
Johnny Sexton (Ire), Owen Farrell (Eng), George Ford (Eng). Reserve: Dan Biggar (Wal).
Woodward: “They (Sexton and Farrell) are very similar players with complete skill sets and very flinty edges in defence.”
Conor Murray (Ire), Rhys Webb (Wal), Ben Youngs (Eng). Reserve: Greig Laidlaw (Sco).
Woodward: “Murray has arguably been Europe’s player of the season and is favourite to start the Tests.”
Billy Vunipola (Eng), Toby Faletau (Wal). Reserve: Jamie Heaslip (Ire).
Woodward: “They (Vunipola and Faletau) have the power to really hurt the Kiwis.”
Sam Warburton (Wal), Justin Tipuric (Wal), CJ Stander (Ire), Sean O’Brien (Ire), Peter O’Mahony (Ire), Ross Moriarty (Wal). Reserve: John Barclay (Sco).
Woodward: “That is where the battle is fiercest and the attrition rate can be high and, given the Warburton injury scenario, I would include six flankers in the squad.”
Alun Wyn Jones (Wal), George Kruis (Eng), Maro Itoje (Eng), Iain Henderson (Ire), Joe Launchbury (Eng). Reserve: Devin Toner (Ire).
Woodward: “This wasn’t easy. I’ve gone for the best athletes who also have a stack of attitude and physicality.”
Jack McGrath (Ire), Joe Marler (Eng), Mako Vunipola (Eng). Reserve: Cian Healy (Ire)
Woodward: “McGrath has been in very good form for Ireland recently.”
Rory Best (Ire), Dylan Hartley (Eng), Ken Owens (Wal). Reserve: Jamie George (Eng).
Woodward: “The big question is whether to pick Hartley above George. I would every time — and that’s no slight on George.”
Tadhg Furlong (Ire), Dan Cole (Eng), Tomas Francis (Wal). Reserve: Zander Fagerson (Sco).
Woodward:”Furlong has been a revelation at the set-piece and in the tight.”
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena