Our jersey's devalued says JPR

By Carroll du Chateau

Few people could be better qualified to criticise the 2005 Lions, and their management, than legendary 1971 tourist JPR Williams.

The rangy fullback John Peter Rhys Williams, who wowed the crowds with his chip and chase, unerring kick and sheer aggression, is no bone head. He went on to become an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in - naturally - sports injuries.

As he says, "I spent the first half of my life trying to break bones, and the second half trying to put them back together".

JPR sits in the Christchurch Holiday Inn, while his GP wife, Priscilla, looks after their tour group, and talks about Sir Clive Woodward's mighty tour. And he is not confident. The team is too big, the players too disjointed. The first test was "embarrassing ". The O'Driscoll controversy "all spin again".

"It's not good for the game," says Williams, who talks in fast, hard-hitting, machine-gun sentences. "If you look at a video of any game of rugby right through you can cite every player."

Are professional players better for all the time devoted to playing and training? No, says Williams.

"There's no doubt they're bigger and stronger, but skill-wise they haven't improved.

The handling and kicking out of hand is very poor."

Despite the 34 years between visits, Williams' knowledge of local rugby is solid. Asked to name the standout All Blacks of this series he is unerring: "You've got to look at Daniel Carter, Tana Umaga and Leon McDonald - he had a very, very big Super 12."

Although he thinks Graham Henry is "an excellent coach", Williams is not so enamoured of Clive Woodward who he considers a control freak. "The backroom stuff is almost worse than having so many players," he says. "As a former Lion I'd say it actually cheapens being a Lion - which is summed up by Alastair Campbell having a Lions' jersey."

Williams thinks several new laws are problematic. Lifting in the lineout invites injuries and fouls, as does kicking into touch from a penalty. "There were two nasty incidents on Saturday," he says. "One was a sin bin. And why should you have a penalty, kick the ball into touch and get to throw in at the lineout where all the trouble is brewing?"

Giving players a cap even though they play only the final few minutes also makes Williams' Welsh blood boil. He earned his 55 caps for Wales and eight for the Lions in 80-minute stretches. He thinks this squad is too big. "There are probably 10 surplus players who've played half a game and are clearly frustrated. They're all internationals who don't just want to be paid. They want to play."

As for Woodward's insistence on his players sleeping in single rooms, Williams is scathing: "Rooming together was tremendous for the integration of the four countries. We never had two England players sharing a room.

"We were all together, the test team and the midweek side, and found our best mates in the midweek side. I was friends with Bob Hiller, the other fullback. I'm not sure that can happen with a group of 48.

"They've 80 people - and Prince William!"

But, stresses Williams, do not under-estimate Woodward. "The bloke's not stupid. He'll put more pressure on the All Blacks." He says the Lions have a great captain now in Gareth Thomas, who skippered his local Bridgend club when Williams was manager. "I don't think the Lions will lie down, I really don't."

JPR Williams

* Played eight tests for the Lions during their successful tours of New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974.

* Helped develop attacking fullback play.

* Sealed the 1971 series win with a 45m drop goal late in the fourth test.

* Played 55 tests for Wales

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