Rugby Union: Beaten English get lion's share of tour places: Only two Irishmen make British Isles party for New Zealand. Steve Bale reports

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The Independent Online
THE LAST performance would stick in the mind, Geoff Cooke had suggested. But when the British Isles tour party for New Zealand to be led by Gavin Hastings was disclosed yesterday, England's wretched experience at the hands of the fighting Irish counted for next to nothing.

For one thing, virtually all the Englishmen whose Lions places had - or should have - been put in doubt by the Lansdowne Road misadventure survived in the selectors' lists. The one old stager who did his cause no harm, Jeff Probyn, was the one who missed out. 'I've been down this road before; that's life, I suppose,' England's front-row philosopher lamented. He was equally unfortunate to miss out on the 1989 tour to Australia.

For another, only Mick Galwey and Nick Popplewell had moved from Irish team to Lions party - and Galwey, who has played lock and No 8 for Ireland this season, has made it as a versatile blind-side flanker. Irish representation, which could with justice have risen to half a dozen (Elwood, Clohessy, Robinson, McBride), is the least in Lions history.

Instead the selectors - manager Cooke and coach Ian McGeechan, plus Derek Morgan (England), Bob Munro (Scotland), Ken Reid (Ireland) and David Richards (Wales) - have come up with 16 English, including 13 of Saturday's beaten team, eight Scots and four Welsh in addition to the derisory Irish forward duo.

A patent lack of pace in the back row is shrugged off as tolerable, perhaps even capable of attention. And there are three players - Dean Richards at No 8, outside-half Rob Andrew and Ian Hunter as a wing happier to fill in at full-back - elevated from beyond their national team (England, of course).

This was the product of meetings throughout the season culminating in six hours in London on Sunday at which, according to Cooke, not a single vote needed to be taken. 'We had regard for performances such as happened on Saturday in the case of the Irish team,' he said yesterday. 'Quite clearly, that caused a lot of debate and we talked through the merits of what we saw very thoroughly indeed.'

That was small consolation to the Irish, for whom Saturday came just too late. They were judged on what went before both this season and last - though not as far back as 1989, since Robert Jones's contribution to the Lions' victory then did not assist the Wales scrum-half on to the tour.

Evidently the selectors did not feel the heights of passion scaled by Ireland against England could be sustained right through a tour of three Tests against the All Blacks and 10 provincial matches spread over nearly two months. Probyn excepted, experience is preferred to fresh sets of legs.

'We had to look at the specific challenge that lies ahead, the players we think we need to do the job in New Zealand, coupled with the form we have seen since September,' Cooke added. 'The selectors recognise the value of experience in New Zealand. Only time will tell if we are right.'

Cooke will not be surprised that there are those, mostly dressed in emerald, who already think they are wrong. Popplewell, the Lions' only Irish probable for much of the season, struck a discordant note: 'The selectors obviously disregarded Saturday's game.' Noel Murphy, Ireland's manager, added: 'The reaction from the man in the street will be surprise and disappointment that a side that turned over England should have only two representatives.'

He might have added that Wales, who lost to Ireland and finished bottom of the Five Nations' Championship, have double the Irish representation - though, even so, four players are the lowest from the Principality since 1924. The Welsh are more used to making up the bulk of the party: the only previous 16-strong selection was the Welshmen chosen for the 1977 tour to New Zealand.

How times have changed. With Dewi Morris preferred to Jones, this is the first time since 1959 no Welsh scrum-half has been among the Lions; indeed Wales have provided the scrum-half in 18 of the last 25 Lions Tests and at least one player in every Lions Test side of the 20th century. It is perfectly possible this record will end in Christchurch on 12 June.

Still, they could scarcely complain. Even Jones, who had suffered so severely behind a struggling Wales pack that he was dropped from last Saturday's defeat in Paris, had more sympathy for the Irish than himself: 'I can't get over the number of English players in the squad. It's another disappointment for me but, there again, think of all those Irishmen that ought to have been out there.'

The Lions may not want Jones but they are glad to have 12 players from the 1989 tour, plus Peter Winterbottom, who was one of New Zealand rugby's five players of the year when he went with Ciaran Fitzgerald's ill- fated, whitewashed Lions of 1983.

'We would hope that those who were there in '89 would have a head start,' McGeechan said. 'They already know that a Lions tour is different. A tour of New Zealand, with its total rugby environment, is the ultimate for anyone from these shores.'

BRITISH ISLES NZ TOUR ITINERARY: 22 May North Auckland (Whangarei); 26 May North Harbour (Takapuna); 29 May New Zealand Maoris (Wellington); 2 June Canterbury (Christchurch); 5 June Otago (Dunedin); 8 June Southland (Invercargill); 12 June NEW ZEALAND (first Test, Christchurch); 16 June Taranaki (New Plymouth); 19 June Auckland (Auckland); 22 June Hawke's Bay (Napier); 26 June NEW ZEALAND (second Test, Wellington); 29 June Waikato (Hamilton); 3 July NEW ZEALAND (third Test, Auckland).

Rosslyn Park Sevens, page 33

Alan Watkins, page 32

BRITISH ISLES TOUR PARTY TO NEW ZEALAND

FULL-BACKS

*Anthony Clement (Swansea and Wales) age 26, caps 20 *Gavin Hastings (Watsonians and Scotland, capt) age 31, caps 45

WINGS

*Ieuan Evans (Llanelli and Wales) age 29, caps 36 Ian Hunter (Northampton and England) age 24, caps 3 *Rory Underwood (Leicester, RAF and England) age 29, caps 60 Tony Underwood (Leicester and England) age 24, caps 5

CENTRES

Will Carling (Harlequins and England) age 27, caps 42 Scott Gibbs (Swansea and Wales) age 22, caps 18 *Jeremy Guscott (Bath and England) age 27, caps 28 *Scott Hastings (Watsonians and Scotland) age 28, caps 46

OUTSIDE-HALVES

*Rob Andrew (Wasps and England) age 30, caps 52 Stuart Barnes (Bath and England) age 30, caps 10

SCRUM-HALVES

*Gary Armstrong (Jed-Forest and Scotland) age 26, caps 28 Dewi Morris (Orrell and England) age 29, caps 15

PROPS

Paul Burnell (London Scottish and Scotland) age 27, caps 29 Jason Leonard (Harlequins and England) age 24, caps 25 Nick Popplewell (Greystones and Ireland) age 29, caps 18 Peter Wright (Boroughmuir and Scotland) age 25, caps 5

HOOKERS

Ken Milne (Heriot's FP and Scotland) age 31, caps 25 *Brian Moore (Harlequins and England) age 31, caps 45

LOCKS

Martin Bayfield (Northampton and England) age 26, caps 12 Damian Cronin (London Scottish and Scotland) age 29, caps 28 *Wade Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers and England) age 35, caps 55 Andy Reed (Bath and Scotland) age 23, caps 4

FLANKERS

Mick Galwey (Shannon and Ireland) age 26, caps 13 *Mike Teague (Moseley and England) age 33, caps 27 Richard Webster (Swansea and Wales) age 25, caps 13 *Peter Winterbottom (Harlequins and England) age 32, caps 58

No 8s Ben Clarke (Bath and England) age 24, caps 5 *Dean Richards (Leicester and England) age 29, caps 34 Manager: Geoff Cooke (England); Coach/assistant manager: Ian McGeechan (Scotland); Assistant coach: Dick Best (England); Doctor: James Robson (Scotland); Physiotherapist: Kevin Murphy (England).

*denotes previous Lions

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