As doubts grow over whether the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa will go ahead, former coach Sir Clive Woodward has tabled his wishlist should the tour go ahead, devising a strategic plan in his latest column for Daily Mail UK.
Woodward called on current coach Warren Gatland to ‘send out a big message’ to the Springboks and the rest of the rugby world with selections that show a willingness to play expansively, starting with maestro flyhalf Finn Russell at 10.
He believes that the swashbuckling talents of Russell will be the key to ‘wowing’ fans across the globe as well as stunning the Springboks with attacking flair.
“I would love Warren Gatland to send out a big message to the South Africans and the rugby world. We are here to play, excite and wow fans across the globe,” he wrote for the Daily Mail.
The World Cup-winning coach called for an end to defence, physicality and box-kicking ‘macho talk’, which fittingly was the Springboks game plan at the 2019 World Cup.
“No more macho talk about defence, physicality, winning the territory battle with box-kicking — let’s talk about skill, pace and excitement. That’s what the Lions must be about.”
Woodward believed the Springboks pack, who provided the foundation of their World Cup win, would be too much to overcome up front and thus the Lions must pick apart the Springboks out wide with skill and attacking bravado.
“Of course they must match the Boks up front but I don’t think you are ever going to dominate the South African forwards. The Lions must find other innovative ways of winning and they should have a world class back division based on attack not defence and skill not size.”
The Lions were able to salvage the 2017 series against the All Blacks by playing an expansive game centred around two flyhalves, Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell. After falling to a 1-0 deficit, the elevation of Sexton to the starting side saw a win and a draw in the final two tests.
Gatland could effectively run a similar scheme with the selection of Russell at 10 and Owen Farrell retaining his place at 12 in South Africa, leaving the 35-year-old Sexton out of the run-on side.
Scotland’s mercurial 10 missed the 2020 Six Nations after breaking team protocol before the opening test but made his return in the November Autumn Internationals off the bench against Georgia after mending bridges with coach Gregor Townsend.
If Russell returns to the Scotland starting line-up for the 2021 tournament, he will be able to press his claims for a Lions tour but that increasingly looks like being postponed or moved due to Covid outbreaks in South Africa.
A decision is expected to be made by organisers later this month whether it will go ahead or proceed with alternative options although both sides have concerns.
South African administrators view playing games without spectators as untenable while the home nations see postponing until 2022 as impossible as tours have already been booked.
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