The Lions travelled to New Zealand in 2005 with 45 players and 29 coaches and support staff, including a visual awareness coach.
Headed by Clive Woodward, they returned home seven weeks later on the back of a 3-0 Test series hammering.
The 1971 tourists had journeyed to the same destination with 30 players, a head coach and a team manager. They flew home with a historic series victory.
How did it go so wrong for Woodward’s party and the man himself?
When the World Cup winner from 2003 began a two-week fishing holiday after the Lions tour, a journalist remarked: “I think the fish can rest easy.”
Woodward had presided over a trip that turned into a debacle. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. After the first Test defeat, The Guardian spoke of “a steaming heap of horrors”.
Those five words could be used to sum up the tour.
As Sky Sports this week screen their 2005 tour documentary, we take a look at the trek south that attracted ridicule and ignominy in almost equal measure.
The Welsh captain who felt undermined
It’s a quiz question, all right — name the five captains the Lions used in 2005. The answer? Brian O’Driscoll, Martin Corry, Gordon Bulloch, Michael Owen and Gareth Thomas.
Owen led the team against Argentina in a pre-tour warm-up in Cardiff.
He had been outstanding for Wales when they won the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2005, operating at No. 8 and offering them an extra dimension with his sublime passing.
Handed the Wales captaincy after an injury to Gareth Thomas midway through the tournament, he impressed with his intelligence, approachability and candour.
Being named Lions captain was a huge honour, he later said.
But there were aspects of the experience that left Owen less than impressed.
One incident, in particular, riled him. The Lions were three points down when Owen told his vice-captain Jonny Wilkinson to kick for goal to level the scores, with the idea being the Lions could then work their way back upfield to try to win the game.
But it didn’t work out like that.
“I turned around and walked away and then when I looked back, Jonny was kicking for the corner — having been instructed to by the coaches,” Owen says in the book, Behind The Lions, put together by Stephen Jones, Tom English, Nick Cain and David Barnes.
“I felt totally undermined, and it was an indication of how Clive wanted to micromanage everything.”
Owen felt angry at what had happened.
The incident was significant.
Detail, postcards and ‘paranoia’
Woodward’s obsession with detail had been evident from the off.
Players had been given red folders that were said to filled with tactical plays.
They had also been sent wristbands before the tour with ‘Power of Four’ written on them and postcards on which were written motivational messages.
One card had on it: “What the f**k is going on?” Players were invited to hold it up in team meetings if their thoughts aligned with the words. Plenty could have had cause for doing so.
It didn’t take long for injuries to kick in, with Lawrence Dallaglio invalidated out of the tour in the first game.
And there was a fun deficit.
Indeed, certain players have since spoke of a sense of paranoia that infected proceedings.
In the build-up to the first Test, members of the midweek team were refused entry to the video analysis room because they weren’t in the Test matchday squad. The incident, according to Donncha O’Callaghan, caused some bitterness among the midweek players.
The squad was split into two sides with players in the Test team and the midweek side not seeing each other much, a turn of events Shane Byrne has since called “mad”.
Lineout calls were changed a few days before the opening Test, apparently as there was a suspicion the All Blacks had somehow acquired access to the original calls. There was even a suggestion “SAS guys” were patrolling the training grounds. It was all a bit bonkers, and the new calls didn't stop New Zealand ransacking the Lions line-out in the first Test.
The Welsh captain who refused to panic
The first Test turned into everything Woodward wouldn’t have wanted it to be. Despite Wales winning a Grand Slam just months earlier, the Lions coach opted to load his Test side with eight of his English World Cup winners from two years earlier. It proved a mistake.
And all his well-intentioned planning, attention to detail and plays counted for nothing against an All Blacks side who were simply superior in pretty much every aspect of the game.
There were also injuries — serious ones, with captain Brian O’Driscoll controversially spear-tackled out of the tour in the first minute of the game and Richard Hill also suffering a tour-ender.
An increasingly concerned Woodward turned to Gareth Thomas as skipper in place of O’Driscoll.
Blinding people with science wasn’t Alfie’s style.
There was no-one more passionate or direct in rugby at the time.
He wore his heart on his sleeve and had a warrior spirit. Had he been at Rorke’s Drift, there's a fair chance he would have looked up at the 4,000 Zulus gathering in the distance and shouted ‘bring ’em on’.
Sometimes his words didn’t come out right, though.
Before the second Test, the newly appointed Lions skipper gathered his charges together and said: “Look, boys — I’ve got just two words that sum up our situation at present: ‘Don’t f*****g panic!’”
It didn’t matter how many words he used, Alfie never panicked and actually scored an early try in the game itself.
But the Lions were crushed 48-18 by a team playing a different game.
Perhaps it was time to panic, after all.
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The Welsh superstar who felt confused, devastated and used
Gavin Henson’s star had been high in the sky before the tour and he’d been expected to make the team for the opening Test.
His hopes were boosted by Woodward apparently telling him that’s how he, the head coach, saw the situation unfolding.
But come the team announcement for the series opener, Henson’s name was nowhere to be seen on the squad sheet.
“I stared again at the seven names who’d be on the bench as Clive put the side up on the screen behind him. Nope, not there,” wrote Henson in his book My Grand Slam Year.
Woodward went on to say how he wouldn’t swap any of the Lions players in the 22 for All Blacks players, but Henson had stopped listening: “I was in my own little world — confused, devastated, bewildered. I’d expected not to be in the starting line-up, but not even to be on the bench? Why? What was going on? I felt completely numb, in a daze and in a strange way a bit panicky.”
The turbulence didn't end there for Henson.
Not long after, the party’s media chief Alastair Campbell handed him a piece of paper headed ‘Gavin Henson quotes’. They added up to a few bland words in which Henson was supposed to say he’d been ‘disappointed’ at his omission for the first Test. As the man himself said: “Disappointment is when you’re waiting for a train and it’s delayed for 20 minutes. I wasn’t disappointed. I was devastated."
There was then the infamous photo of Woodward chatting with Henson, a shot said to have been stage-managed by Campbell. “I felt I’d been used,” Henson said.
It was all going wrong.
But the fact is the Lions hopelessly failed to get the best out of Henson, barely using him as a kicker even though he could propel the ball prodigious distances and, in so doing, hugely influence matches.
The Midweek Massive, smoke and teeth
The midweek team, meantime, had been going from strength to strength under the direction of Ian McGeechan, Gareth Jenkins and Mike Ford.
The side became known as the Midweek Massive and were to be unbeaten over the tour. The atmosphere in the set-up was old-school and players enjoyed playing for them, whereas the Saturday team were enveloped by seriousness. “Players couldn’t really step away from it and enjoy the tour,” Gordon Bulloch said of the Test brigade.
The tour ended with a 38-19 win for New Zealand in the third Test.
Two replacements on the trip, Ryan Jones and Simon Easterby, were widely felt to have performed outstandingly. But there wasn't much else to cheer.
The lock Paul O’Connell had taken up smoking again after the first Test.
To mask the smell of smoke, he'd been brushing his teeth six or seven times a day.
He was to later write in his book The Battle: “I wasn’t getting a whole lot out of the tour and I remember thinking there might be one benefit before it was over.
“At least I might have white teeth by the end of this f*****g trip.”
Even that didn’t work out well.
Not long after a dentist told O'Connell he’d brushed away his gums.
The tour of pain?
That’s sounds about right.