If the British & Irish Lions are to avoid the “chaos” of the 2005 Test series, then they need to have a simple game plan and gear everything towards on-field performance, according to Jonny Wilkinson.
Wilkinson is renowned for his meticulous attention to detail, but even he was left perplexed when the Lions faced the All Blacks back in 2005.
The first Test in Christchurch was the perfect storm for the Lions. Captain Brian O’Driscoll was injured in the opening exchanges, Paul O’Connell was sin-binned and the Lions’ set piece crumbled after changing the lineout calls at the final minute. They went on to lose 21-3, and then the series 3-0.
“I’d never seen such chaos,” Wilkinson said. “We had 12 of us in rucks at times. We were literally all over the place. “They pulled us apart. At times I was defending against five people. I was just picking one and thinking: ‘you’re getting it.’ As soon as I saw the pass leave the hand I just had to guess. I remember twice choosing the right bloke and whacking into them. If it hit someone else then it was done.
“How many times in rugby now do you see a five or six-man overlap? Never. There were four or five in that first Test in the first half. Not only that it was happening with it pissing down with rain and windy as well.
“New Zealand were kind of doing well but even they were thinking: ‘what’s happening here?’ We were all trying hard but in our own way.”
The Lions will be heavy underdogs against the All Blacks this summer. Having played a gruelling 10-month season, the 41-man squad only met as a group on Sunday, before flying out on Monday. Arriving in New Zealand on Wednesday, Gatland’s Lions have just three days preparation before their opening match against the New Zealand Barbarians.
To negate a schedule deemed by Sir Graham Henry as “suicidal”, Wilkinson feels the Lions must have the simplest of game plans to avoid the “chaos” of 2005.
“In that short space of time it is about understanding general principles, choosing combinations and then feeding the energy so the guys are ready to go,” Wilkinson said. “Start with the defence — nothing can come through — and then attacking-wise all the guys need to know is that there is opportunity in what they are doing.
“They don’t need to know that if he runs that line, it goes behind him and then we should be able to get the offload away. If the guys going into the game with a very solid platform but excited about attack then I think they will do incredible things. If they go in with a complicated plan I think they will get pulled apart.”
It all starts for the Lions on Saturday, the first game of their 10-match tour as they hope to put right the wrongs of 2005.
“One of the greatest thing to take forward from 2005 is that the only thing that matters is rugby,” Wilkinson said. “That’s how you communicate and negotiate with the New Zealand public: through rugby. It’s not through what you say or anything else, it’s how you play that speaks.
“You don’t get to say ‘we’re the Lions and this is what we’re about’. Your voice is in your performance so you need to gear everything towards that.”