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Alastair Campbell recalls his controversial Lions speech that left players 'seething'

By Josh Raisey
McCaw was 'targeted in all phases' by the 2005 Lions.

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Former Downing Street director of communications Alastair Campbell has shed some light on his speech during the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour which angered some players.


Campbell worked as Sir Clive Woodwards’ head of communications for the Lions’ 3-0 series loss to the All Blacks, and was even used to provide a team talk after the chastening 21-3 loss in the first Test. This speech, however, was not popular with the entire squad.

“Some of the players were hanging around in the bar downstairs [after the first Test] and having a bit of a laugh with some of the fans and I just made this observation to Clive that I was really surprised by that,” Campbell said to 2005 tourist Will Greenwood on his podcast this week.

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“I didn’t feel that they were really hurting like I thought they might be that they’d lost. It just felt very strange to me. He went ‘I want you to talk to them, I want you to tell them that.’

“I said ‘Clive, are you sure that’s a good idea?’ But you know what he’s like, once he gets fixed on something.

“I was quite worried about it, but I was working for Clive and he wanted me to do it. He basically said ‘some of the players have got a bit complacent and they’re not listening to me, they’re not listening to what I’m saying. I’ve got to think of something to shake them up.’

“It was really interesting, the reaction. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Brian O’Driscoll and he was just doing this very gentle shake of the head. He was basically saying dial it down a bit.


“I had prepared it quite carefully, I’d thought it through. But I could sense in the room that there were some who were genuinely engaging. But others, I remember Martin Corry was absolutely seething.

“Matt Dawson said I lost some of them from the word go because I started off by saying ‘compared to you guys I know nothing about rugby’. That may be true, but it was my way of saying ‘I’m coming at this from a totally different perspective, I hope I can give you an insight.”

Future Lions captain Paul O’Connell was another player who was irked by this speech, and detailed his reaction in his book The Battle.

“On the training pitch the following morning, I was still thinking about Alastair’s few words and getting more and more p****d off. I decided what I was going to do when the session was over: find Alastair and knock him out.”



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