Lions tour: All Blacks could 'crash' to smiling Lions, says Sir Clive Woodward
Sir Clive Woodward suggested the All Blacks could be the next southern hemisphere team to crash when facing the Lions as the clear "sea of change" since the 2015 World Cup continues.
The 2005 Lions coach said the tourists will be smiling and confident of toppling the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, after playing the Chiefs in Hamilton on Tuesday.
Woodward believes Lions coach Warren Gatland had "undoubtedly got his preparation right" for the test series.
The tourists have beaten New Zealand Maori and the Crusaders in their last two Saturday matches when fielding what resembled a test team, while losing midweek clashes to the Highlanders and the Blues after scraping past the Provincial Barbarians in their tour opener.
Woodward is "quietly confident" the Lions have a "very decent chance" of winning the first test.
"They will start as underdogs but not massively so. I see a team and squad peaking at the right time - the stage is really set for an epic encounter," he wrote in the Daily Mail.
None of the northern hemisphere powers progressed past the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup as the All Blacks, Argentina, Australia and South Africa reached the last four.
Woodward pointed to Australia's sharpe decline, South Africa's "huge issues" and said Argentina have stood still.
The 2003 World Cup winning coach with England said the All Blacks could be next.
"Frankly it is only New Zealand who are truly flying the flag for the southern hemisphere at present. Is this the occasion when they too crash to the northern hemisphere?
"Some things never change. If you have a world-class forward pack that can ensure quality set-piece possession and win the collisions, you are in business.
3 June: NZ Barbarians v Lions - Toll Stadium, Whangarei
7 June: Blues v Lions - Eden Park, Auckland
10 June: Crusaders v Lions - AMI Stadium, Christchurch
13 June: Highlanders v Lions - Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
17 June: Māori All Blacks v Lions - Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
20 June: Chiefs v Lions - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
24 June: All Blacks v Lions - Eden Park, Auckland
27 June: Hurricanes v Lions - Westpac Stadium, Wellington
1 July: All Blacks v Lions - Westpac Stadium, Wellington
8 July: All Blacks v Lions - Eden Park, Auckland
"If you have a world-class kicker behind that pack you always have a chance, and the Lions are likely to field two in Owen Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny."
Woodward added that he was "reassured" by Gatland's presence as coach after guiding the Lions to a series victory in Australia four years, as well as defending his decision to summon four Welsh and two Scottish players as cover based on practicality because it's "plain common sense".
"I have been amazed at some of the criticism he copped for bringing in the four Welsh lads and the two Scots at short notice to augment the squad for the two remaining midweek games against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes," he said.
"This is a man who understands what it takes to thrive down there. He also understands the Lions as well as anybody. It is misguided to suggest otherwise.
"He was part of a famous Waikato win over the Lions in 1993, so he knows what it means for a Kiwi to beat the Lions, he was assistant coach with the 2009 Lions, and he made the hard-nosed decisions that saw the Lions emerge victorious in Australia four years ago.
"You do not have to agree with every decision Gatland makes but never doubt for one second that everything he does is with the sole purpose of hopefully enabling the Lions to win the test series."