Rugby Union: Carling boost for Lions

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The Independent Online
EVEN though they trained in the foulest conditions imaginable in Invercargill before coming on to Christchurch, the Lions' prospects brightened considerably yesterday as the daily medical bulletin indicated that both Martin Bayfield and Will Carling would be fit for Saturday's first Test, writes Steve Bale in Christchurch.

Even so, the catalogue of injuries - now also extending to three Scottish forwards, Wright, Cronin and Reed - prompted the management to delay naming their Test team until today. Martin Johnson, the Leicester lock who arrived yesterday as replacement for Wade Dooley, may even have to go straight in against the All Blacks.

Johnson's 56-hour journey from the England tour of Canada took him from Ottawa to Christchurch via Toronto, Gatwick, his home at Market Harborough, Heathrow, Singapore and Auckland. But because he played as recently as last Saturday, in England's win over Canada, he has full match-fitness to go with his jet-lag.

Johnson, 23, is no stranger to New Zealand rugby, having played for Colin Meads's union, King Country, when a teenager and succeeding so well that he won a place on a New Zealand Colts tour to Australia along with John Timu, Va'aiga Tuigamala and Craig Dowd of Saturday's NZ team. Meads, the greatest of all All Black locks, paid Johnson this compliment: 'We wish he had stayed a Kiwi.'

Vincent Cunningham, the replacement for Scott Hastings who arrived with Johnson, would not be considered for the Test even if Carling's groin strain were not making such rapid progress. The Ireland centre may have had a less convoluted journey than Johnson's but he has not played since the Leinster Senior Cup final on 1 May.

Carling and Bayfield, whose line- out prowess has never been more sorely needed, took a full part in training yesterday, as did Ben Clarke, another Test probable who has been injured. Rob Andrew and Stuart Barnes, casualties of Tuesday's Southland game, should be fit for Test consideration but the best guess for Scott Gibbs is that he might make the Taranaki game next Wednesday.

Andy Reed trained in Invercargill but has a persistent arm injury. Peter Wright's back and Damian Cronin's leg prevented their training and excused them the extra scrummaging practice called when the Lions got to Christchurch last night. Today both they and the New Zealanders went into closed session.

While the Lions were experiencing storm-force winds and rain and hail howling in from the Antarctic, the All Blacks trained in perfect sunshine in Christchurch.

Afterwards they were earnestly talking up the Lions, suggesting that the conclusive defeat by Otago might even help the tourists. This is also how the Lions themselves would like to portray it.

Wales saved their best for last as they rounded off their six-match African tour with an emphatic 56-17 victory over the South African Barbarians in Windhoek yesterday. It was a fine Welsh performance: they were too quick, clever and alert for a Barbarians side boasting five Springbok squad members, three Namibian internationals and a host of top provincial players from the Republic.

The South Africans had claimed they were going to teach the Welsh a power-play lesson, but Gary Llewellyn's pack proved too strong for them and the Welsh forwards bagged four of the eight tries. Two of them were superb: John Davies rocketing out of a rolling maul 20 yards from the line to score, and then Stuart Davies crossing after a fine move.

South African Barbarians: Tries Barnard, Stransky; Conversions Stransky 2; Penalties Stransky. Wales: Tries I Jones 2, P Davies, A Davies, S Davies, J Davies, Perego, Proctor; Conversions N Jenkins 5; Penalties N Jenkins 2.