Rugby: There should be no argument about the outstanding discoveries of the season, Richard Hill and Colin Charvis

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The Independent Online
A few months ago, at a Rugby Football Union dinner where I was taken as a guest, I just missed winning a competition to choose a post- 1970 Lions XV. Competitors had to come nearest to a side selected by Jeff Probyn. I wanted to choose as my centres Mike Gibson and Jeremy Guscott.

But then I thought to myself: no, Guscott is too much of a "Fancy Dan" for someone like Probyn. So I put in John Dawes instead. I was wrong. Probyn chose Guscott. The moral is that it is unwise to guess someone else's motives or intentions.

Accordingly I do not intend to predict the choice Fran Cotton and his colleagues will have made when on 2 April they announce the Lions Party to tour South Africa. From Cotton's Lancastrian admiration for Rugby League players, I should guess that he will take John Bentley as a wing and David Young as a prop. Neither is in my party, though the former League players Allan Bateman, Scott Gibbs, Alan Tait, Jonathan Davies and Scott Quinnell all are.

The first choice full-back is Neil Jenkins, if his arm has mended, about which we shall know more in two days' time. If he is not fit, his place goes to Mike Catt, though not necessarily as first choice. Catt, however, is already in the party, contesting the first choice outside-half position with Davies. Gregor Townsend is perhaps lucky to make the trip because he had what was, by his standards, a disappointing season. But his ability also to play as a centre tilted the balance. It is, however, essential to have two real place kickers, of whom Catt is not one, in the side; either Jenkins and Davies or, if Jenkins is unfit, Paul Grayson and Davies.

I make Ieuan Evans captain because of his experience and because he is still the best right-wing in the British Isles - provided, and it is a big provision, he can contrive to remain more or less in one piece. The English wings, Tony Underwood and Jon Sleightholme, choose themselves, and Denis Hickie comes along for his great speed and his proven try-scoring ability. Three of the centres, Bateman, Gibbs and Guscott, likewise choose themselves. The fourth position lies between Tait and Will Greenwood.

I am going for Tait for his excellent scoring record.

There can be little argument about Austin Healey and Robert Howley at scrum-half. I am taking Gary Armstrong also - if he is willing to make the trip - for his indomitability. So far, he has hardly been mentioned by my colleagues in the Press.

The pattern I am following is to make up the 35 by choosing an additional player in each of the five spinal positions of full-back, outside-half, scrum-half, hooker and No 8. I am certain that extra half-backs must be taken. There can be rational disagreement about where the others should be accommodated. Thus there could be five centres and two hookers, or five props and two hookers. But the third hooker in Richard Cockerill enables the Leicester front row to go en bloc. Unhappily they look slightly less formidable since their club lost to Brive in the European Cup final at Cardiff.

Clearly the present English front five must be kept together too, which at lock leaves the additional places to be contested by Gareth Llewellyn, Doddie Weir, Jeremy Davidson and Craig Quinnell. I am choosing Davidson for his jumping and Quinnell for his aggression.

It may well be, however, that Craig's best position is, as his father Derek's was, at No 6. Here the choices are Rob Wainwright and Lawrence Dallaglio. There should be no argument about the outstanding discoveries of the season, Richard Hill and Colin Charvis, who both happen to be genuine No 7s. I am sorry to omit Ben Clarke at No 8 but the extra place goes to Eric Miller.

My Lions party: Full-backs: N Jenkins (or M Catt), J Staples, T Stimpson. Wings: I Evans (capt), D Hickie, J Sleightholme, T Underwood. Centres: A Bateman, S Gibbs, J Guscott, A Tait. Outside-halves: M Catt (or P Grayson), J Davies, G Townsend. Scrum-halves: G Armstrong, A Healey, R Howley. Props: J Davies, D Garforth, J Leonard, G Rowntree. Hookers: R Cockerill, M Regan, K Wood. Locks: J Davidson, M Johnson, C Quinnell, S Shaw. Flankers: C Charvis, L Dallaglio, R Hill, R Wainwright. No 8s: E Miller, S Quinnell, T Rodber.

This gives us 16 Englishmen, 10 Welshmen, five Irishmen and four Scotsmen. I have refrained from making political choices such as were often made in the old days - when some Irish flanker who had never even played for his native land and was completely unknown outside it, would put in an appearance to make up the numbers. With my selection it is not the Irish but the Scots who are under-represented. Certainly Ken Logan and Weir are both unlucky, and possibly Tom Smith is as well.

To forestall any angry correspondence from north of the border, I should like to say I have nothing against the Scots, as is shown by my choice of Armstrong, Tait, Townsend and Wainwright.

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