The Lions' proud all for one and one for all approach to beating the Springboks may still be official policy, but their equally democratic strategy of avoiding a split between the Test XV and the midweek journeymen no longer stacks up. It seems harsh to say so, for the tourists were never in much danger of meeting their Waterloo in Wellington yesterday, but most of the participants had such a clear stamp of the dirt-tracker about them that motorcycle scrambling might now be an option.
There were notable exceptions. Allan Bateman, competing manfully but unenviably against Jeremy Guscott for a place in the only side that now matters - the one to play South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday - offered as complete an interpretation of the outside centre's art as is likely to be seen on this trip and he may yet feature prominently in the series. Outside him, John Bentley made a significant pitch for a wing place this weekend with a performance full of muscle, passion and character.
But those two and, just conceivably, Jeremy Davidson and Jason Leonard aside, it was difficult to imagine too many other names featuring in last night's all-important selection debate. There was energy from Neil Back, brains from Rob Wainwright, clever hands from Tony Diprose on his first Lions' performance, pace from Mike Catt and a hat-trick of tries for Nick Beal on the left-wing, but the identities of the genuine Test contenders could be scribbled on the back of a Penny Black.
The claims of the hitherto feared England front row were almost certainly sacrificed on the fast-retreating altar of another dodgy scrummaging performance, although the selectors may just fancy Leonard's vast experience when push comes to shove with the Boks. Had it not been for the sheer top-of-the- ground speed generated by Catt and those outside him, the Lions' frailties up front might have been exposed by Dale Santon's physical pack of mix and match Emergers.
Indeed, the South Africans were within a point at the break, the accomplished Warren Brosnihan and the classically equipped Marius Goosen scoring tries to remove the sting from Graham Rowntree's early rumble to the corner. That score was instigated by Bateman and delicately massaged into existence by Wainwright and, of all people, Mark Regan, who delivered the sweetest of passes going left.
Tim Stimpson's magnificent goalkicking was the difference at that point; somehow, Newcastle's occasional marksman once again kept pace with Neil Jenkins, his great rival for the No 15 shirt in the Tests by banging over nine from 12 for 26 points. Unfortunately for him, his general handiwork at full-back lacked organisation and, with missed tackles creeping in both in close and out wide, the Lions were far more vulnerable at the interval than they need have been.
"We defended pretty poorly for a 25-minute spell and you can't afford to do that when there is such good rugby being played by your opponents," Ian McGeechan, the Lions' coach, said. "When we stopped working we looked bloody awful, but I take my hat off to these players for their attitude and their total belief in each other. There were good things as well, especially in the second half."
Bentley, such a force of nature on this tour, started the good things rolling with another of his lung-busters from the backwoods of his own half. He crossed from right to left, bursting tackles asunder at will, to put Beal in under the posts and when the Northampton wing claimed a second on 56 minutes following some visionary stuff from Will Greenwood and the ubiquitous Back, the visitors were in clear blue water
Paul Treu's 63rd-minute strike, created by Goosen's slide-rule grubber to the Lions' line, raised the Bokke hopes momentarily but last-quarter tries for Stimpson, Beal and Catt spiked the home guns for good. Stimpson's was the pick, Back combining cleverly with both wings to open up the initial attacking position, Regan setting the important ruck wide on the left and Catt hitting his full-back with a cut-out pass that might have been measured by the Ordnance Survey.
"I still think that our selection meeting will be longer rather than shorter," McGeechan said last night, clearly meaning every word. But when the white smoke emerges from the deliberations, many of those who sweated blood for the cause yesterday will be disappointed.
Emerging Springboks: Tries Brosnihan, Goosen, Treu; Conversions Smith, Montgomery; Penalty Smith. Lions: Tries Beal 3, Rowntree, Stimpson, Catt; Conversions Stimpson 6; Penalties Stimpson 3.
EMERGING SPRINGBOKS: M J Smith (Free State); D Kayser (Eastern Province), P Montgomery (Western Province), M Hendricks (Boland), P Treu (South West Districts); L van Rensburg (Gauteng), J Adlam (North West); R Kempson (Natal), D Santon (Boland, capt), N du Toit (Boland), R Opperman (Free State), B Els (Free State), W Brosnihan (Gauteng), J Coetzee (Free State), P Smit (Griqualand West). Replacements: K Mybrugh (Free State) for Adlam, 10; M Goosen (Free State) for van Rensburg, 20; K Malotana (Border) for Smith, 60; L Campher (Northern Transvaal) for Kempson, 64; J Brooks (Northern Transvaal) for Santon, 66; T Arendse (Western Province) for Brosnihan, 71.
BRITISH ISLES: T Stimpson (Newcastle and England); J Bentley (Newcastle and England), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), M Greenwood (Leicester), N Beal (Northampton and England); M Catt (Bath and England), A Healey (Leicester and England); G Rowntree (Leicester and England), M Regan (Bristol and England), J Leonard (Harlequins and England, capt), N Redman (Bath and England), J Davidson (London Irish and England), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland), A Diprose (Saracens and England), N Back (Leicester and England).
Referee: I Rogers (Natal).
Joiner's happy return,
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