Rugby Union: Barnes leads Lions into the unknown: Relaxation in short supply as tourists prepare for their first match against North Auckland

HARD THOUGH they have laboured, there has been a dreamlike quality to the Lions' acclimatising week in the lotus-eating milieu of the Bay of Islands. When they finally get to Whangarei tomorrow for their opening match in New Zealand, they may wish they had allowed reality to intrude for a little longer.

This is not to anticipate the mortification of a defeat by Second Division North Auckland at Okara Park - Gavin Hastings, a non-playing captain on this occasion, yesterday went so far as to say 'I would expect a good victory' without it sounding like a hostage to fortune. Indeed the Lions are as well prepared as they could be having only just got to know each other.

But for all the pounding physical pressure the coaches have sought to bring to training by their contrasting methods - the studied quietude of Ian McGeechan and the acerbic volubility of Dick Best - neither knows, nor in a sense has the foggiest idea, how his four-country mixture will blend.

Which is why Ian Jones, the eminent All Blacks lock who leads North Auckland, gives his side a 50-50 chance. 'The advantage we have in the first game is the advantage the Lions will have in the first Test,' he said. In other words, tomorrow it is the provincial side who will enjoy the benefits of familiarity; in Christchurch on 12 June it will be the British Isles.

Tomorrow brings the moment when the theory of uniting the best of British and Irish rugby becomes practice. All those who hold the Lions dear will hold their breath, even including the phlegmatic McGeechan. 'We are going from the realms of the totally unknown,' he said. 'Having done everything on the training field, you just don't know until you play.'

Yesterday Martin Bayfield failed to complete training for the third day running and was replaced by Damian Cronin, who forms a Scottish second row with Andy Reed and thereby immediately thwarts the management's intention to separate national partnerships.

The same could be said of Wednesday's game against North Harbour, because Bayfield's hamstring injury is not serious enough to keep him out of that and he will pack down in the all-too-familiar company of Wade Dooley. 'It's very frustrating but there was no point in taking any chances at this stage of the tour,' Bayfield said.

As there are only half a dozen games leading up to the first Test, the mixing- and-matching will soon unavoidably cease - and as Barnes pointed out, the longest-running liaison of all, his with Jeremy Guscott, stays intact.

'We recognise that on a short tour like this we have no time to experiment greatly,' Geoff Cooke, the manager, said. 'You have to have an idea of where you're going, and clearly the likely Test side will start to develop within three or four games. It has to.'

So to claim a Test place no one has time to lose and the tension is therefore caused by more than the imminence of the first game. 'It's pretty evident that everyone, especially the forwards, will be fairly uptight,' Barnes said yesterday. 'We need to relax a bit; a lot of people are very nervous. Everyone knows the Test side will be the 15 form players, so every game represents a big individual as well as collective challenge.'

The nervousness does not extend to Barnes. 'I've been around a long time, it's another challenge for me, it's an honour to be captain and I enjoy the pressures that brings. But I'm certainly not apprehensive.' This can be put down in part to the fact that he is the only one with direct knowledge of his opponents.

He played against North Auckland for England as long ago as 1985 but, more usefully, led England B to victory (and scored 19 points) at Okara Park last year. North Auckland were subsequently relegated but have improved sufficiently to have beaten King Country and Taranaki of the First Division in the past 10 days.

'We are aware we can't allow it to become a loose game,' Barnes said. 'It needs to be tight control and structured. If we can do that, there are major opportunities for us to exploit a possible lack of depth in their defensive play.' Tight control? Structure? This does not sound like the familiar Stuart Barnes. But then he has never previously been a Lions captain and, whatever he says, that is a fearful responsibility.

North Auckland: W Johnston; T Going, C Going, M Seymour, D Manako; A Monaghan, R Le Bas; L Davies, D Te Puni, C Barrell, E Jones, I Jones, G Taylor, K Tuipolotu, A Going.

BRITISH ISLES: A Clement (Wales); I Hunter (England), S Hastings (Scotland), J Guscott, R Underwood; S Barnes (all England; capt), R Jones (Wales); J Leonard, B Moore (both England), P Wright, D Cronin, A Reed (all Scotland), M Galwey (Ireland), B Clarke (England), R Webster (Wales).

Referee: L McLachlan (Dunedin).

(Photograph omitted)

News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there