Woodward lauds Gatland's effort

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    24 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Woodward, writing an open letter to Gatland in the Daily Mail, said that regardless of the resulte Gatland had done a great job getting the Lions to the point where they had their best chance of winning under circumstances that few people could understand.

"There is no bigger challenge in rugby, in fact there is no bigger challenge in professional sport, than getting a Lions team to the starting gate against New Zealand with a genuine chance of glory," he said.

Just how hard the task was clear from history. When the 1971 beat the All Blacks in the first Test of that series, they enjoyed what Woodward called a 'brilliant generation of all-time greats' who had a playing schedule that suited them in building gradually to the challenge.

"As Lions coach you spend 12 months or more making meticulous plans – it's the Rubik's Cube of rugby logistics – and trying to identify the players you want. Then it is all over in a flash. There is scarcely time to breathe and gather your thoughts. Despite all the planning you still have to act on instinct," he said.

The wins over the Crusaders, Maori All Blacks and Chiefs had demonstrated the strength and talent of northern hemisphere players while each game on tour had been played with a Test-match intensity. Throughout it all the team looked to be close-knit.

"Everybody has looked hungry, ambitious and fully engaged," he said.

Keeping Test selection open until the last minute had been a masterstroke while Woodward said Gatland showed that he 'got' the Lions more than most and more than Woodward who had played for the Lions on two tours and who coached them.

"In the modern rugby world, the value of the Lions can be questioned. That's entirely valid but the one thing that will keep the value and the brand intact – in fact the only thing that will keep the Lions going in the professional era – is winning Tests on tour, especially against all logic and massive odds in New Zealand," he said.

On such a tour, against the double world champion All Blacks, every decision needed to be ruthless.

"Winning the Tests, especially in New Zealand, will justify once again every decision you make regardless of how controversial," he said.