Sun 25 Jun 2017 | 12:27

Woodward: Lions 'second best by a distance'

Woodward: Lions 'second best by a distance'
Sun 25 Jun 2017 | 12:27
Woodward: Lions 'second best by a distance'
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A much-anticipated clash between New Zealand and the combined side saw the world champion All Blacks win 30-15 at their Eden Park fortress in Auckland on Saturday.

That was despite the Lions scoring a stunning try, with Ireland flank Sean O'Brien finishing a sweeping move initiated from near his own line by Wales fullback Liam Williams.

Victory put New Zealand, who have not lost a Test at Eden Park since 1994, 1-0 up in the three-match series ahead of next Saturday's clash in Wellington.

A World Cup-winning coach with England, Woodward was heavily criticised for his role in presiding over the Lions' 3-0 series loss when they last toured New Zealand in 2005.

"Only your very best will ever beat the All Blacks, especially at Eden Park, and frustratingly we did not see the best of the Lions on Saturday," Woodward wrote in his Mail on Sunday column.

"Yes, we did see a try to compare with any in Lions history and a couple of near misses, but we also witnessed way too many mistakes and silly errors at key times," added the former England and Lions centre.

"Ultimately, the Lions were second best by quite a distance."

But Woodward said no blame should be attached to the current Lions coach Warren Gatland, a native New Zealander.

"It was a well selected and prepared Lions side that under-performed on the one day they would have desperately hoped to step up a level," said Woodward.

"New Zealand showed razor-sharp instincts with quick line-outs, tapped penalties and reacting quickest to penalty advantage. 

"That's what I wanted to see from the Lions to complement the promising aspects of their play we have seen in recent weeks."

Gatland's team choice was also endorsed by another former Lions coach in Ian McGeechan.

"I thought Warren Gatland was fully vindicated in terms of his selection," said Sunday Telegraph columnist McGeechan, who was four times in charge of the Lions, including on their victorious 1989 and 1997 tours of Australia and South Africa respectively.

McGeechan, a former Scotland back who won Test caps with the Lions in South Africa in 1974 and three years later in New Zealand, was encouraged by the current side's threat with ball in hand.

"Some of the Lions' attacking play – most notably the build-up to Sean O'Brien's try, of course – was reminiscent of some of the great attacking Lions rugby of the 70s," he said.

"They could have had a try at the beginning of the first half and the beginning of the second, both of which would have put real pressure on the All Blacks. But they didn't. 

"The Lions need to be more clinical in Wellington… Gats [Gatland] had to pick a team to score three or four tries.

"Unfortunately we only got two."

Agence France-Presse

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Woodward: Lions 'second Best By A Distance' | Rugby365