If the Pontypridd scrum-half gets to South Africa by tomorrow, I would put him on the bench for the midweek match and make sure he gets at least half a game. If he comes through that in good shape, I would have no hesitation in putting him straight into the Test team.
It might seem hard on Matt Dawson and Austin Healey but Paul is the nearest thing we've got to Howley as an attacking genius. I said earlier he should have been in the party from the outset and nothing I have seen from Dawson or Healey has made me change my mind. I would put Dawson in before Healey but I hope John gets the call-up.
Howley's injury apart, it was another encouraging day for the Lions but I was bitterly disappointed with the way Natal played. They missed their international players who were withdrawn from this match, and I suspect the South Africans have pulled a master stroke by saving their Test side to present the Lions with another level to climb next Saturday.
As I said earlier in the tour, the Lions can do no more than beat the team put up against them, and once again they did it in great style yesterday. The most important aspect was not the result but the indications provided for the selection of the side for the first Test.
There can be no doubt Neil Jenkins must play full-back. He might not be the greatest in attack but he has good football instincts and he is the best kicker in South Africa at the moment - and I include the South Africans in that assessment.
I would pick John Bentley and Ieuan Evans on the wings. Bentley can play on both wings and he can be brought down the middle to great effect. In the centre I would partner Jeremy Guscott with Scott Gibbs at inside-centre. The way Scott hit the 21-stone prop Ollie le Roux in the tackle yesterday showed his value. I would have Allan Bateman on the bench to come on in the second half when the crunch stuff is over.
With Jenks taking the responsibility of the restarts off him, Gregor Townsend is the obvious outside-half choice but he must learn not to throws silly passes when there's nothing on.
Up front, Tom Smith has surely played himself in at loose-head prop. The contest between Barrie Williams and Keith Wood at hooker has been fascinating. I believe Wood has greater mobility and I would plump for him but Martin Johnson might well think the accuracy of Williams at the line-out is more important. At tight-head there's not much to choose between three: Dai Young did well yesterday but I suspect they'll go for Jason Leonard.
Johnson is playing well and Jeremy Davidson deserves to partner him in the second-row because of his line-out work and his ability in the loose. There are plenty of problems in the back-row for the selectors but I think they'll settle for Richard Hill on the open-side, Lawrence Dallaglio on the blind-side and Tim Rodber at No 8.
This would be tough on Neil Back but in my book Hill is the player of the season and Dallaglio has an extra edge because he jumps at No 5. Eric Miller would be another unlucky not to make it but I would have him on the bench. More than one good replacement will be vital.
Howley's loss is going to hit morale but they must take some heart from yesterday's performance. The scrummaging is improving every game and the defence is superb. There is so much fight in this Lions squad, I would hesitate to write them off whatever happens.Reuse content