Code-breaker joins Lions for test series

By Wynne Gray

Feared tactician and code-breaker Scott Johnson joins the Lions this week and will be stalking the sideline during the first test with the All Blacks, coach Sir Clive Woodward promised yesterday.

"He will be wired for sound, he will be part of our medical team, he will be taking over as a water-carrier from Neil Back," the coach added.

That pledge will increase the pre-test spice in Christchurch from a tactical and historical perspective.

There were strong murmurs of disapproval in New Zealand after the Lions used the suspended Back to carry supplies and instructions when the tourists had their hit-out against the Pumas in Cardiff.

On arrival in New Zealand, Woodward said he would not be employing Back for the same purposes on this trip but yesterday he made it clear Johnson would assume that role when he linked up this week with the squad.

The Australian roamed the sidelines for the Wallabies during their 2001 home series, picking up some tactical intelligence against the Graham Henry-coached Lions.

After one evesdropping session during an earlier tour match, Johnson was able to decipher the Lions’ lineouts well enough to allow Justin Harrison to steal a late Lions lineout throw and save the third test and the series.

Johnson has been in great demand since. New Wallaby coach Eddie Jones wanted to continue his contract but personal circumstances meant Johnson accepted an offer in Wales.

Steve Hansen used him as a technical analyst with Wales before they exited the 2003 World Cup. However Johnson’s role in the tournament was not finished.

Jones persuaded Johnson to discuss strategies and tactics with him at a training camp in Coffs Harbour before the Wallabies got up to defeat the All Blacks in the semifinal.

Late last year on the All Blacks tour to Europe, Johnson and Hansen opposed each other before the tourists were able to maintain a 51-year hoodoo against Wales but only by a solitary point.

There had been time for Johnson to cause a pre-match furore when he jokingly referred to New Zealand as that "poxy little island in the Pacific".

He appeared at a subsequent media conference, clad in a T-shirt suggesting he should be a target and offered a typically humorous apology, saying he was sorry because New Zealand was actually two poxy islands.

Those sort of antics and his wild, woolly appearance lead many to discount Johnson.

Woodward admitted he was one who had changed his stance.

"After we had a meeting Scott said he altered his ideas now he knew me and I also changed my opinion after working with him," the Lions coach said.

"He is great, he offers so much more and that is what this sort of job is all about-learning from everyone, seeing what they can contribute and using their expertise.

"Scott will be a key part of our operations. He will be pitch-side I promise you."

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