Rugby Union: All Blacks choose Stensness

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The Independent Online
THE All Black selectors yesterday bowed to pressure - in fact it was something like public demand - by introducing the flair player of New Zealand rugby, Lee Stensness, for Saturday's deciding final Test against the British Isles in Auckland. After the Lions' 20-7 win in Wellington last Saturday, the series stands at 1-1, writes Steve Bale.

Stensness, the 22-year-old Auckland inside-centre, displaces Eroni Clarke, who played at wing in the first Test before being moved infield instead of the injured Walter Little. At No 8 Zinzan Brooke, who has 52 caps, is ousted for the second time in a year by Arran Pene, the impressive Maori captain, who has seven. This time Ian Jones will be the starting second-row partner for Zinzan's brother, Robin; it is Mark Cooksley's turn to be on the bench waiting to take Jones's place.

The introduction of Stensness is an unusually bold move. Last year he cut the Irish to shreds playing at outside- half for Manawatu when he was a student in Palmerston North and he also played in both internationals for the New Zealand XV against England B.

This year he joined Auckland and went straight into the team - no mean feat in the strongest non-international side in rugby. His side-stepping try for the Auks in last month's Super 10 final against Transvaal and the delicate grubber-kick executed while moving at speed which created John Kirwan's try for Auckland against the Lions 10 days ago marked him as a player of the highest calibre.

To him falls the task of unlocking the Lions' defence, success which utterly eluded Clarke in Wellington. 'We recognised Lee would give us extra flexibility to use the game plan we want to play,' Laurie Mains, the New Zealand coach, said yesterday. On last Saturday's evidence that game plan is not exactly clear.

Stensness himself was suitably stunned. 'It's a bolt from the blue,' he said. 'I'm surprised it's come now. I'm going to take my chance while I've got it.' Which, judging by the turnover of players the selectors have achieved over the three Lions Tests, may be longer than some of his more venerable colleagues.

NEW ZEALAND (v British Isles, Auckland, 3 July): J Timu (Otago); J Kirwan (Auckland), F Bunce (North Harbour), L Stensness, V Tuigamala; G Fox (Auckland), J Preston (Wellington); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (Auckland), I Jones (North Auckland), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago), M Jones (Auckland). Replacements: M Cooper (Waikato), A Strachan (North Harbour), M Allen (Taranaki), G Dowd (North Harbour), M Cooksley (Counties), Z Brooke (Auckland).