Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Cooke reminds England to forget battle for Lions places: Carling's men guard against complacency as the Five Nations' Championship nears its climax

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GEOFF COOKE put tomorrow's Ireland-England game into its proper context yesterday when he mentioned the forthcoming Lions tour of New Zealand. Quite right, too: it will be Cooke's tour, as he is manager of the British Isles as well as England.

The awkward thing is that Cooke wants his players both to forget about the Lions and to remember them - the former because it is no way to go in against the Irish at Lansdowne Road thinking of anything but the task in hand, and the latter because one bad match could be enough to rule out a number of prospective tourists.

'Players can't afford a terrible last performance on the eve of selection, because the last day is what stays in the memory,' Cooke said. On the other hand: 'The players can't afford to concentrate on anything but the game with Ireland.' You pays your money . . .

The Lions party of 30 to play 13 matches, including three Tests against the All Blacks, will be finalised in London on Sunday and announced in the old-boy setting of the East India Club on Monday. If the England players follow Cooke's recipe, at least 15 of them should be on the plane.

As for tomorrow's game, England, who were installed last night at Killiney, just south of Dublin, are taking nothing for granted even after six successive wins over Ireland since Cooke became manager. This they might conceivably have done if the Irish had extended their sequence of defeat to 12 by losing to Wales. 'Just because this squad hasn't lost to Ireland doesn't make this match a soft touch,' the manager said.

His players know they can expect a banshee start by Ireland, who usually then have trouble sustaining the early effort. 'I will say to the team that it's a home game and the crowd is behind you,' Michael Bradley, the Irish captain, said. 'We are not to let them settle. We will harry them as much as we can; that's what Wales did against England.' And beat them 10-9.

Welsh euphoria after that famous, but ultimately misleading, result played its part in their downfall against both Scotland and Ireland. Irish euphoria after beating Wales, on the other hand, has immediately evaporated - if only because England are next up for them. 'It's helpful that we are playing England because it immediately brings us down to earth with a bump,' Gerry Murphy, the coach, said.

Lions considerations also impinge on the Welsh team in Paris, though in prospect the match against France does not appear likely to elevate the hopes of too many. Like Bradley in Dublin, the new Wales pack leader, Gareth Llewellyn, is preaching the critical importance of a good start.

'We've got to get an early confidence-boost and then maintain momentum,' he said. A try would not come amiss; Wales have not scored one at Parc des Princes since Jeff Squire in 1983. Indeed, the last time they played there, Serge Blanco scored one for France within a couple of minutes of the start of his Five Nations' farewell in Paris.