Rugby Union: Dampener put on the Lions' Border skirmish

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The Independent Online
Some guys get all the luck. Last Saturday, the weather gods granted the Lions perfect conditions for the opening match of their South African tour and, on the fast going in Port Elizabeth, a handful of tourists - Jeremy Guscott, Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell in particular - grabbed the opportunity to lay down their Test markers. By contrast, today's line- up might just as well be playing on a wet Wednesday in Wolverhampton. Both literally and metaphorically, it is sink or swim time for some very big names indeed.

This afternoon's match with Border here is in serious danger of being played on a swamp rather than a rugby pitch and, as a result, the second- up Lions will find it more difficult to impress. As Scott Gibbs, the powerful Swansea centre who partners his countryman, Allan Bateman, in midfield admitted: "We'll have to go some to emulate the performances we saw from Will and Jerry against Eastern Province. Will turned in a terrific display and Jerry is on fire at every training session. The competition is intense."

Whether Border, among the less forbidding obstacles on this tour, can bring some external intensity to bear today remains to be seen. They have endured a rotten time of late; so much so that their best-known player, the Springbok full-back Russell Bennett, said with startling candour yesterday: "The fact that we haven't played for a month is no great disadvantage because it was getting to the stage where playing was doing us no good at all."

If Bennett does not expect the current Border side to beat the Lions, as their forerunners did in 1955, he at least anticipates a sharp upturn in performance levels, personally and collectively. "Some of our team will play a game like this only once in their careers, so there will be no shortage of effort. As for myself, I very definitely have Test ambitions; I haven't had much exposure recently because I haven't been involved in Super 12, so this is a really big occasion, a chance to remind people of what I can do," he said.

Paul Grayson, the England outside-half who has not played since early March because of muscle problems in his kicking leg, came through yesterday's low-key training run without further problems.

"It's been a long three months and the thought did flash across my mind that I might not even make it on to the plane," he said. "Everything has turned around brilliantly for me over the last week, though, and the game can't come quickly enough for me."

Sadly for Grayson's Northampton club-mate, Tim Rodber, the frustration is set to continue. The England No 8 had been due to sit on the bench today and, with the Lions looking to use all their substitutes if at all possible, he would have been virtually certain of a first rumble in the famous red jersey. But it became clear yesterday that the eye wound he picked up on Monday would not stand up to match demands, so Simon Shaw moves up to replace him.