Rugby Union: Guscott close to perfection as Lions claim fourth win: Canterbury coach tips British Isles to take first Test after they display resilience and brilliance on a saturated Lancaster Park pitch

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Canterbury . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

British Isles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

FOUR wins from four, the Lions roll on at a pace New Zealanders are beginning not to enjoy contemplating. After another huge morale-booster for the tourists at Lancaster Park yesterday, the Canterbury coach, Vance Stewart, even made them favourites to win the first Test at the same ground on Saturday week.

This unlikely tribute was delivered after a Lions performance which did not quite match the result. But Stewart, who faced the Lions for Canterbury in 1977, is no mug: never mind their devastating capacity to make use of limited opportunities, this squad have limitless resilience and a defence with the capacity to stand firm against wave upon wave of opposition attacks.

But above all they have some of the most dynamic match-winners in world rugby, players playing above even their own high standards under the twin pressures of touring New Zealand and fierce competition for Test places. Above all yesterday they had Jeremy Guscott.

The tour is perfect as a stage for his comprehensive accomplishment. On a saturated pitch which made handling problematic, the Bath centre began with three try-saving tackles during Canterbury's opening onslaught, continued with the Lions' first try and later added a piece of intuitive skill which created Tony Underwood's try.

Then there were all the brilliant things he did in between. Had he not thrown a wild pass and dropped another when the game was already won, it would have been as close to perfection as you could get. 'I think we could make something of him,' Ian McGeechan, the coach, said.

The management refused to be carried away by Guscott's performance, nor were they seduced by Stewart's flattery. 'That's a novelty,' Geoff Cooke, the manager, responded. 'If he believes that, I suppose we've come a long way from what the press were saying here a month ago,' McGeechan added.

Canterbury have given Lions teams such trouble down the years - they beat the last lot in 1983 - that the mere fact of such a handsome scoreline stabs at the heart of New Zealand rugby. But it would be idle to pretend that this Canterbury team were anywhere near as good as predecessors whose fearsome forwards relished every chance of slugging it out with touring sides who fancied themselves.

These Cantabrians are meek and mild by comparison, their pack reduced to a secondary role serving as best they can backs whose movement of the ball is so ambitious that the overnight rain which had so affected Lancaster Park made no difference. They came prepared for dry-day rugby and considered no alternative when conditions did not suit.

Initially they stretched the Lions to the limit, but a try by Shayne Philpott was mistakenly disallowed for a double movement on the ground when he had not been held in the tackle and within two minutes Guscott, put away by Ben Clarke's potent acceleration and delicate pass, had scored at the other end.

Indeed the Lions had every reason to be pleased with Jim Taylor. For a while this referee came down on Canterbury as disproportionately as Alan Riley did on the Lions last Wednesday and there was no better reason for the disproportion. In a first half spent largely in frantic defence, virtually every marginal decision went the Lions' way.

The single exception was the Canterbury try, a defensive kick by Robert Jones charged down by Chris England into the arms of the offside Mark McAtamney, who passed on to Greg Smith. Taylor thought it had struck a Lion, but there were no complaints: this time the penalty/free-kick count went 12-6 to the Lions and Canterbury did not receive their first full penalty for all of 50 minutes.

It was just as well. If the Lions start any of the Tests as slowly as has been their wont in New Zealand, they will pay a salutary price. But none of their opponents so far - not even the Maoris, who ran up 20 points in the first half last Saturday - have exploited this early lethargy to the full.

And yesterday as before the Lions' grip on the game steadily tightened until finally they assumed an impressive control. Once again they were at their strongest in the final quarter and even the scrum, hitherto a cause for concern, was so improved that when the next try came it was a pushover by Mick Galwey.

The remaining Lions tries owed as much to the disintegration under pressure of the Canterbury defence as their own creativity, though the scoop of a loose ball off the ground with which Guscott gave Tony Underwood his was another reflection of the centre's genius. Finally, Canterbury lost the ball after a quick drop-out went awry and Rob Andrew scored.

Andrew was hurt in doing so, as Reed, Clarke and Bayfield had earlier been in a physically punishing though unexceptionable confrontation. Cooke said that none of the injuries was more than painful bruising, but in any case after such a victory the pain was fairly easy to bear.

Moreover, apart from the nonpareil Guscott there was much to celebrate in the performance, out of position at open-side flanker, of Clarke. Also the Lions were ahead in the line-out, largely through Martin Bayfield and the general forward effort was comfortably the best of the tour.

But Robert Jones and Andrew struggled to connect at half-back and, even allowing for the damp, there were far too many gratuitous blunders. So with Otago next up, followed by Southland and then at last the All Blacks, McGeechan still has plenty to work on - which is how he likes it.

Canterbury: Try Smith; Conversion Coffey; Penalty Coffey. British Isles: Tries Guscott, Galwey, T Underwood, Andrew; Conversion Andrew; Penalty Andrew; Drop goal Andrew.

CANTERBURY: A Lawry; P Bale (Marist), S Philpott (Burnside), K Hansen (Marist), S Cleave (Burnside); G Coffey (Marist), G Bachop (Linwood); G Halford (Shirley), M Hammett (Marist), S Loe (United), C England (Shirley), M McAtamney (Christchurch), T Blackadder (Belfast), R Penney (capt), G Smith (Burnside). Replacements: W Maunsell (Sydenham) for Hansen, 3; T Kele (Marist) for Halford, 62.

BRITISH ISLES: A Clement (Wales); R Wallace (Ireland), J Guscott (England), S Gibbs (Wales), T Underwood; R Andrew (England), R Jones (Wales); J Leonard (England), K Milne, P Burnell (Scotland), M Bayfield (England), A Reed (Scotland), M Galwey (Ireland), D Richards (England, capt), B Clarke (England). Replacement: S Barnes (England) for Andrew, 79.

Referee: J Taylor (Pukekohe).

The Swansea hooker Robin McBryde was sent off five minutes from time as Wales maintained their 100 per cent record on their tour of Africa with a 47-10 victory over Namibia B in Windhoek yesterday. Prior to McBryde's dismissal, for punching in a maul, the referee Piet Theunissen ordered off the Namibian scrum-half Hakkies Husselman after 67 minutes following an off-the-ball incident involving Hugh Williams-Jones.

Wales found it difficult to motivate themselves against a scratch side in front of only 500 spectators.

But they started well with a try by Wayne Proctor after only three minutes and another from Mike Rayer 10 minutes later. Further tries from Proctor and McBryde put Wales 28-10 ahead at half-time. Another three came in the second half through Neil Boobyer (2) and Robert Howley, and the outside-half Neil Jenkins converted six of the seven tries.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments