THE midweek Lions showed precisely why that is their unexalted status with a wretched performance at McLean Park yesterday which raised doubt about the moral fibre of some of them. Stuart Barnes, captain for the day, indignantly confessed that the commitment level would have been inadequate for any team, let alone the Lions, and said he felt 'humiliated'.
Geoff Cooke, the manager, insisted that the fault was technical but poor technique alone cannot explain the degeneration of the Lions' performance from the peak of a 17-5 half- time lead to the trough of a crushing defeat in which Hawke's Bay scored 24 unanswered second-half points. 'It did not mean enough for some of our team to play for the Lions,' Barnes added accusingly.
How different the tour is since the heady, early days when trifling chances were being snapped up and confidence was growing. Not many, if any, of yesterday's side may be about to face the All Blacks in the second Test but the whole mood has been deflated by defeat. This was the fourth in 10 tour matches, an unimpressive record whatever the standard of the opposition - and yesterday's was no more than modest. Ian McGeechan, the coach, seemed to follow the Barnes as opposed to the Cooke line when he said: 'We didn't do justice to the jerseys we were wearing. Some of them will have to look good and hard at themselves.'
But it was Barnes, going as far as delicacy would permit, who really turned the knife. First of all, at the post-match function he pointedly thanked the Hawke's Bay team and not his own for their commitment. Later he explained himself: 'It isn't all 15 but I don't want to name names. I don't feel we all performed 100 per cent in terms of commitment and that's tough on those that did.'
Barnes was one - possibly Carling and Jones were others - challenging for a place in the Wellington Test but their chance was inevitably diminished by the inadequacy of those, notably in the front five, who are either off the pace or do not go in good and hard when they are up with play.
Barnes was incredulous. 'I couldn't consider walking on a rugby pitch, apart from an odd Sunday works piss- up match, and not giving 100 per cent. Whether it's Bath, the South-West, England or the Lions, that's not the way I work. If some do, I don't understand why.
'It's bitterly frustrating. A lot of the boys working and trying for Wellington actually played well. But the scoreline reflects badly on them and there was nothing they could do about it.' Barnes placed himself in this category and Will Carling, too, was an honourable exception, playing with great skill and courage despite a shoulder injury.
For a while this was the England captain at his best, responding positively to the adversity of being about to lose his Test place and showing a fleetness of foot and eye for an opening that had been absent in New Zealand. Much good it did him. By the end of the game, Carling and all the rest of the backs had been reduced to anonymity by their pack's complete inability to win the ball.
In fact, the Lions had built their lead on shaky foundations in that Jarrod Cunningham missed all his five first-half goal-kicks and eventually passed the Hawke's Bay kicking to Simon Kerr. Norman Hewitt, a strong candidate for a hooking place on the All Blacks' UK tour in the autumn, scored a try for the Bay, the Lions replying with one by Richard Webster when Jones, Barnes and Underwood exploited the breakdown of a short-penalty move.
Three penalties by Barnes and a drop goal by Carling kept the score moving but then things came to such a halt that John Fowler and Bill Davison, Rosslyn Park locks who are unconsidered in domestic rugby, contrived to look vastly superior to Andy Reed and Damian Cronin.
The Lions failed to augment their lead when they had the chance early in the second half and for the last, miserable half-hour they were punished by the referee and locked in defence. Mike Teague and Webster, effective marauders earlier, faded from view as the forwards consistently turned the ball over in contact and the backs compounded the felony by dropping their passes.
Mind you, it became a rare event for them to have the ball to drop. Neil Weber and Simon Tremain, son of Kelvin, an all-time great All Black, scored the tries that reduced the Lions to embarrassment but really it was the Lions who embarrassed themselves on the worst day of the tour. Hawke's Bay had never beaten the Lions in seven attempts - which probably says it all.
Hawke's Bay: Tries Hewitt, Weber, Tremain; Conversion Kerr; Penalties Cunningham 2, Kerr; Drop goal Kerr. British Isles: Try Webster; Penalties Barnes 3; Drop goal Carling.
HAWKE'S BAY: J Cunningham (Havelock North); A Hamilton, G Konia (Taradale), M Paewai (Havelock North), P Davis (Taradale); S Kerr, N Weber (Napier OB Marist); T Taylor (Waipawa United), N Hewitt (Taradale, capt), O Crawford (Flaxmere), J Fowler, W Davison (Celtic), D Watts (Napier Tech OB), S Tremain (Napier OB Marist), G Falcon (Clive).
BRITISH ISLES: A Clement (Wales); R Wallace, V Cunningham (Ireland), W Carling, T Underwood; S Barnes (England, capt), R Jones (Wales); P Wright, K Milne (Scotland), J Leonard (England), D Cronin, A Reed (Scotland), M Teague (England), M Galwey (Ireland), R Webster (Wales).
Referee: P O'Brien (Oamaru).Reuse content