Rugby Union: Hastings citicises workload

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THE INQUISITION began yesterday into how the Home Unions came to accept for the Lions the murderous New Zealand tour itinerary that ended in a crushing defeat by the All Blacks in Saturday's deciding Test at Eden Park, writes Steve Bale from Auckland.

Gavin Hastings, the Lions captain, said that the very least his side should have been granted was a week without rugby between the second Test in Wellington, which they won 20-7, and the third in Auckland, which they lost 30-13 - the second-heaviest victory by the All Blacks over the Lions.

Instead, what the Lions got was a Tuesday fixture against Waikato, the national champions, in which the second string were duly trounced. 'We would like to thank the New Zealand Rugby Union for arranging our itinerary,' Hastings said. 'I cannot quite congratulate the committee of Home Unions.'

In Australia in 1989, a tour that was much less demanding, Finlay Calder's Lions were given a break. The case is even stronger in New Zealand but the clamour of leading unions wanting to take on the Lions meant that this time there was no respite - and it showed in the steady decline in the players' form.

The second-Test win was the only redeeming feature of the final couple of weeks. 'It's been a stressful seven weeks and we've played some extremely tough games,' Hastings said. 'Perhaps some thought can be given to having a week off next time. It would not go amiss.'

The availability of Grant Fox, who kicked 30 of the All Blacks' points during the series, for the autumn tour of England and Scotland is in doubt due to business commitments. After representing New Zealand since 1985 Fox, the managing director of a sports marketing company, is considering retirement after the Bledisloe Cup match against Australia on 17 July. The lock Ian Jones is already out of that match after rupturing a calf muscle on Saturday.

'The time has to come when rugby is no longer the most important thing in my life,' the 32-year- old Fox said yesterday. 'If I go on the tour and play on next year, that will mean I'll be going for the '95 World Cup; otherwise, I'd have to give the selectors time to develop a successor. One of the few things I haven't done in rugby is play at Murrayfield, so that's a big motivation for me to go.'

Ian McGeechan, who has retired from coaching now that the Lions tour is over, is leaving the door open for a return to rugby after taking a year's break from the game. McGeechan, formerly Scotland's coach and also the Lions' 1989 coach, is now on holiday in Thailand.

He has half-agreed to assist London Scottish on one day a week next season but that will be the limit of his rugby involvement for the time being. 'All I've ever said is that I'm just taking a year off,' he said. 'I've opted out but I'm leaving it open.'

On that basis, McGeechan could even have resumed as Scotland coach by the time of the next World Cup, but with Douglas Morgan having been appointed in his stead he does not expect a vacancy.