Rugby Union: Bracken answers call of duty

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The Independent Online
Kyran Bracken will not be too popular with the love of his life, but Lions tours occur far too rarely for any self-respecting player to ignore the call to arms. The Saracens and England scrum-half arrived on the Caribbean island of Tobago yesterday for a post-season beach holiday with his girlfriend, only to receive a summons to South Africa before he could undo the lid on his bottle of sun tan lotion.

Bracken, extremely close to winning a place among the original 35 until he was overhauled by Matt Dawson at the final selection meeting, replaces Rob Howley, the influential Welsh half-back who dislocated a shoulder joint during the Lions' record victory over Natal in Durban on Saturday. He will join the squad in Cape Town tomorrow morning but even though he was playing Test rugby for England against Argentina only nine days ago - and doing it particularly well, by all accounts - he will not be considered for bench duty when the tourists face the Emerging Springboks in Wellington during the afternoon.

"It's too much to expect of someone to get straight off a plane and sit among the replacements," Fran Cotton, the Lions manager, said. "He might find himself on the pitch in the first minute." The fact that the Lions play tomorrow rather than Wednesday means that both scrum-half contenders for the first Test at Newlands this weekend will be on duty. Dawson, who filled in effectively for Howley on Saturday, is favourite to win the No 9 shirt ahead of Austin Healey, but the selectors were giving nothing away yesterday.

"It's perfectly possible that some players will turn out in both of this week's games," Cotton said. "The Test choice is beginning to crystallise in our minds but the players understand that tomorrow's match is being taken fully into account and that everyone is being given the fullest possible opportunity to stake his claim. It may be that we won't name our Test side until Saturday morning; we have different styles we can play, a lot of flexibility and various options to explore. I can't see any point in revealing our hand too early and helping the Springboks to prepare for us. In this game, you get an edge wherever you can."

There was no such psychological chicanery about the Springboks yesterday. Carel du Plessis, their new coach, named a side showing one change from the one that fairly slaughtered Tonga at Newlands last week, Mark Andrews getting a predictable nod over Fritz van Heerden as front jumper. Du Plessis took the decision to name both Gary Teichmann, his captain and No 8, and James Small, the Western Province right-wing, even though they are struggling with hamstring injuries. Teichmann admitted on Saturday that he had been unable to run since leaving the field early in the Tongan match.

With Hennie le Roux still out of favour and Joel Stransky injured, the least familiar face in the side, Edrich Lubbe, will kick the goals on Saturday. Who shoulders the marksmanship duties for the Lions is still a matter of debate; despite Neil Jenkins' phenomenally accurate display against Natal, Cotton was quick to point out that Tim Stimpson, the Newcastle full-back, kicked 13 goals from sixteen attempts in the games against Western Province and Northern Transvaal.

"Some things never change at the very top level and one of them is the indisputable fact that goalkickers win Test matches," Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, said. With Gregor Townsend certain to start Saturday's big one at outside-half, whoever plays at full-back will be asked to perform the most pressurised task of them all. Jenkins is by some distance the finest kicker in the squad but Stimpson has more of the full-back's instincts about him. It is a difficult choice and it will have to be the right one.

SOUTH AFRICA (v British Isles, Cape Town, Saturday): A Joubert (Natal); J Small (Western Province), J Mulder (Gauteng), E Lubbe (Griqualand West), A Snyman (Northern Transvaal); H Honiball (Natal), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); O du Randt (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), A Garvey (Natal), M Andrews (Natal), H Strydom (Gauteng), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Free State). Replacements: R Bennett (Border), B Wessels (Griqualand West), W Swanepeol (Free State), D Theron (Griqualand West), J Dalton (Gauteng), K Otto (Northern Transvaal).

n Western Samoan counter-attacking brilliance proved too much for Ireland in Apia yesterday as they slumped to a 57-25 defeat. It was a disheartening loss for the Irish, who had led 25-23 at half-time only to concede four converted tries when the Samoans elected to run the ball from their own try-line. Ireland's manager, Pat Whelan, said his side had played well and only a lack of finishing power prevented the match being a closely- run affair. "It was just the manner of the defeat that was so disappointing because we played exceptionally well and conceded 28 points from our own line," he said.

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