Rugby Union

Warren Gatland receives open letter of support from Sir Clive Woodward

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As the tour of New Zealand reaches the final stages, the rugby fraternity is gearing up to witness an engaging performance from the British & Irish Lions' squad as they are scheduled to take on the All Blacks in the first Test on Saturday in Auckland.

Playing a total of six games in a matter of 18 days and to come away as the victors in most of them is not an easy task. Yet, the Lions have managed to secure four wins to date - including three particularly impressive performances against Crusaders, Maori and Chiefs.

Ahead of the highly anticipated tie, head coach Warren Gatland has received a voice of support from Sir Clive Woodward who wrote an open letter, stating he has done them proud irrespective of the result against the All Blacks, as per Daily Mail.

Woodward praised the work Gatland has done since the start of the tour, wishing him all the luck for the upcoming fixtures as he believes there isn't any bigger challenge in sport than a Lions tour of New Zealand.

He wrote: "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."

Woodward defended the heavily criticised coach and advised his sceptics to look into his track record before being judgmental.

"Only one coach - Carwyn James - and one team - the 1971 Lions - have succeeded. They had a brilliant generation of all-time greats and a playing schedule that allowed them to build momentum going into the first Test.

"But that [1971 win] was in the amateur era and the task today is so much harder against arguably the most successful and best-run team in any professional sport.

"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."

The 61-year-old applauded the shrewdness of the coach and has been impressed with the progress the team has made in preparing the squad for the New Zealand tests.

"Every game has been played with a Test-match intensity and this squad has looked very close-knit, a challenge in itself given so little time. You cannot fake these things. That applies to your coaching team as well. You all seem to be warming to the task, something on which I congratulate you.

"I don’t sense any egos clashing and it must help when you have vastly experienced captains like Rory Best and Greig Laidlaw rolling up their sleeves and showing the way by their dedication in the midweek team and big characters like James Haskell showing such enthusiasm for the cause."

"Everybody has looked hungry, ambitious and fully engaged. You have pulled off the remarkable trick of keeping Test selection open right to the last minute of the last warm-up game as evidenced by rewarding Liam Williams and Elliot Daly for their fine performances in midweek against Chiefs."

Leaving the team selections for the first Test right until the last minute was a masterclass move from Gatland, according to Woodward.

The rugby veteran denounced the unjust scrutiny of Gatland from various quarters, suggesting those individuals doubting his credibility are oblivious of the present and even admitted he felt Gatland is a better coach than himself.

"Those who were quick to criticise are living in another era, on another rugby planet almost, and do not have a clue of the complexities of heading up this tour while at the same time being fair to everyone - including other international coaches trying to develop their own teams.

"You ‘get’ the Lions more than most, certainly far more than I do and I played for them on two tours and coached them!"

Woodward, who coached the Lions in 2005, hailed the current man in charge's boldness and is optimistic they can pull off what would represent a big upset in Auckland.

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

"So keep making the calls as you see them, the time for everyone —including yourself — to evaluate them is after the tour when the outcome is known, not in the heat of battle when every negative comment just gives ammunition to the opposition."

"From the comfort of the stands, I see a Lions team and squad peaking at exactly the right time, which is on Saturday against the All Blacks. Nothing else matters."

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