Botha says tour party is flawed: Rugby Union

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The Independent Online
Hardly had the British Isles squad for the tour to South Africa been announced yesterday, than the critics were queuing up to question its content.

Perhaps the most telling view came from South Africa itself, where Naas Botha, the former Springbok captain, was commenting as the announcement was covered on live television. Botha pinpointed outside-half and full- back as areas of potential weakness in the squad.

"At fly-half, they haven't got a major star and, at full-back, we're looking at Neil Jenkins - but are we looking at Jenkins as a kicker or as a full-back?" Botha said. "As a kicker, he's one of the best in the world but, as a full-back, he's certainly not in the same as league as Andre Joubert, for example."

Botha went on to question whether Gregor Townsend would be played at his best position. "Townsend is a talented player but, in my mind, he is a centre rather than a fly-half. When the pressure was really on Townsend during this year's Five Nations, he tried to run Scotland out of trouble and wasn't too successful."

Botha also expressed surprise that Mike Catt had not made the squad, but felt it was a strong side and that the gap between southern and northern hemisphere rubgy had narrowed in the last year.

On the domestic front many were surprised by the overlooking of Saracens' in-form scrum-half, Kyran Bracken, none more so than his coach, Mark Evans. "I find the decision to omit Kyran baffling, given his current rich vein of form, and only equalled by my astonishment that the alternative seems to be Matthew Dawson, who has been injured most of the season and hardly set the world alight when he was fit."

However, the Lions manager, Fran Cotton, insisted that what was wanted were hard, physical players as he defended the choice of the likes of Neil Back - "he's always in the opposition faces" -and Peter Clohessy, the Ireland prop who is at present turning out for Queensland in the Super 12s. Both men have recently served six-month bans, Back for shoving the referee Steve Lander after last year's Pilkington Cup final, while Clohessy served 26 weeks for stamping in the match against France last year.

"Clohessy has served his punishment, let's hope he's learned his lesson," said Cotton, a member of the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa, who had the now infamous coded signal "99" which meant they had to get their retaliation in first against the physical, bullyboy tactics of the Springboks.

"It is very important to get the physical respect of your opponents in the southern hemisphere and, quite honestly, I do like the thought of a 6ft 8in, eighteen and a half stone captain - Martin Johnson - tapping on the opposition dressing-room door rather than a sylph-like winger."

One of those sylph-like figures should have been Simon Geoghegan, but the Bath and Ireland wing rang Cotton on Monday. "He said his toe was so bad that it may even be the end of his playing career," Cotton explained. But Geoghegan's withdrawal opened the door for Tony Underwood, who has silenced the critics this season with some fine performances for England and his club, Newcastle.

Newcastle are second only to Leicester in representation, their complement of five bringing the Second Division's contribution to the first professional Lions tour to seven.

The presence of six Tigers in the Lions party of 35 equals London Welsh's record of club representation - the Exiles ended up with seven when Geoff Young joined the 1971 tour as a replacement. Bath, once the club that set the standards, have Jeremy Guscott as their sole representative.

England have 18 players selected, Wales eight, Scotland five and Ireland four. There was no room for three of the Home Unions' captains, Phil de Glanville (England), Jim Staples (Ireland) and Jonathan Humphreys (Wales). Mike Catt has also been left at home, as has Jonathan Davies.

The Lions support team is now 12-strong following the co-opting of the kicking coach, Dave Alred, the man England want but the Rugby Football Union says is too expensive.

Chris Hewett on the Lions squad, page 28