Jenkins star of shooting gallery

Tim Glover in Durban sees a converted stand-off come to the rescue
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The Independent Online
Breaking with tradition, the Lions thus far have deliberately avoided establishing a two-tier policy within the party. With little distinction between the midweek and Saturday sides, a them and us situation has been avoided.

This is of obvious benefit to party spirit, but by now the selectors should be close to finalising the team to tackle the Springboks in the first Test at Cape Town next Saturday.

However, apart from a handful of positions, it is by no means clear what the best XV is. One thing is patently clear. The Lions can not afford to go into a Test without a specialist goalkicker and on yesterday's evidence Neil Jenkins's name can be pencilled in now.

Prior to the game against the Natal Sharks, the Pontypridd stand-off, who travelled to South Africa as a full-back, was the Lions leading scorer with 40 points, four ahead of Tim Stimpson, his closest rival for a Test place.

Yesterday, Jenkins took to the pitch to produce a world-class display of goalkicking. He landed nine out of 11 and scored 24 points at King's Park, one of the most satisfying aspects of a thoroughly professional performance.

Natal possess a sharp- shooter of their own, Gavin Lawless, a full-back from a club called Combat Group Old Boys. Lawless scored a world-record 50 points against Otago on his debut and this season set a Super 12 record with 170 points.

Yesterday, however, The Law, as he is known in Durban, came up against a smarter marksman.

In the first half, the penalty count was 9-3 in favour of Natal and Lawless kicked them into the lead with two well-struck penalties. On each occasion, an impressive remote- controlled toy truck drove on to the pitch, delivering Lawless's kicking tee.

Jenkins had no such service, but he was clearly in the groove and his concentration was deadly. Just before half-time he had a rare miss, but even then the kick from 50 yards was beautifully struck, the ball only just failing to clear the bar. A minute later he banged over a penalty from 35 yards to give the Lions a half-time lead of 16-9.

After the interval, as the Lions raised the tempo and scented blood against the Sharks, the penalty count flowed in the tourists' favour and Jenkins was in his element, kicking four penalties in succession. With victory assured, it enabled the Lions to play a more expansive game and by the end the opposition was gutted.

The Lions, who lost their No 1 scrum half, Robert Howley, early on with a serious injury to his left shoulder, also replaced Allan Bateman in the second half and it was more of a precaution than anything else.

Assuming that Jeremy Guscott plays in the Test, the choice of who will partner him in the centre is one of the selectors' more obvious dilemmas. Before his departure, Bateman had been instrumental in softening up the Sharks' underbelly with some heavy-duty tackling.

Scott Gibbs also impressed, particularly in attack and his aggression was such that at times he looked like a rampaging loose forward. The Lions have several conundrums to solve, but the competition for places is so severe the selectors are not in an unenviable position.

And although the loss of Howley was a sickening blow, Jenkins has solved one of the problems.

l There was some good news for one injured Lion yesterday. Scott Quinnell will not need surgery for the groin injury that brought his tour to a premature end last week. The Wales and Richmond No 8 has been told that a six-week rest will be sufficient for him to start next season on time.

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