Rugby Union: Carling to serve on the bench

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IT WAS almost as predictable as some of the All Blacks' play in the second Test that the Lions would last night announce an unchanged team for the deciding third at Eden Park on Saturday, writes Steve Bale.

The conclusive manner and record statistics of the win in Wellington had already made it as good as certain even before the midweek team lost

38-10 to the national champions, Waikato, the best opposition bar none that the Lions have faced on tour.

'We were pleased with the performance last Saturday and we really didn't think we could improve greatly on the personnel that were in there,' Geoff Cooke, the manager, said. 'We had a couple of options, but there was a strong feeling that that XV should go out again and try to repeat the performance - or improve on it.'

The only alteration is on the bench where Will Carling, the England captain, replaces Stuart Barnes, thereby reducing the positions Anthony Clement has to cover to full-back and outside-half. 'To ask Tony to cover centre and wing as well was asking too much when we had a quality player like Will, who is in good form at the moment,' Cooke added.

Indeed, Carling's recuperation after an indifferent first half of the tour has been one of the more heart-warming aspects of the Lions' odyssey through New Zealand. In adversity - extreme adversity in the case of the Hawke's Bay and Waikato defeats - Carling has shown himself to be an exceptional tourist, which has surprised and delighted some of the Lions who had not known anything about him.

Despite the Waikato setback, when some of the midweek players were shown to be inadequate for a tour of this nature, there is a palpable air of confidence in the Lions camp. Yesterday's private training session in Hamilton before driving the 65 miles to Auckland was said by Cooke to have been one of the best of the entire tour. So much so that Dean Richards, the Test No 8, said he was worried. 'That was too good,' he said.

The Lions trained in private today as well and will have a light run-out tomorrow, confident in the knowledge that the Wellington Test demonstrated that, if they perform to their capabilities, they are superior to the All Blacks. The fact that the Lions are unchanged while the All Blacks have three changes reflects the respective moods of confidence and anxiety.

The Test will be the biggest match screened in Britain outside the World Cup, and ITV have rescheduled their small-hours programme to include an extra 75 minutes of build-up. Bob Burrows, head of ITV Sport, announced in Auckland last night that the programme would begin at 2am on Saturday, rather than the original time of 3.15, with kick-off at 3.30am.

BRITISH ISLES (v New Zealand, Auckland, 3 July): G Hastings (Scotland, capt); I Evans (Wales), J Guscott (England), S Gibbs (Wales), R Underwood; R Andrew, D Morris (England); N Popplewell (Ireland), B Moore, J Leonard, M Johnson, M Bayfield, B Clarke, D Richards, P Winterbottom (England). Replacements: A Clement (Wales), W Carling (England), R Jones (Wales), P Burnell, K Milne (Scotland), M Teague (England).