Rugby Union: Here the Lions roar once more

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The Independent Online
EVERY true rugby follower knows that he can pick a better representative side than any chosen by a duly constituted body of selectors. Today we select the British Isles party for a fictitious tour of South Africa.

Immediately we have a problem. Does Gavin Hastings go? This great player has said several times lately that he is not getting any younger. Nor is he my first- choice full-back. That is Anthony Clement, discarded or anyway sidelined by the Welsh selectors but still, in my opinion, one of the best all-round footballers in these islands. Nevertheless, I should take Hastings as No 2 in preference to Ian Hunter, assuming he would be prepared to come along in this secondary capacity.

The wings virtually choose themselves, but with only Ieuan Evans assured of a Test place. The Underwood brothers appeared to spend much of the recent international season in the land of nod. Tony loses his place to Simon Geoghegan, who started off his Irish career on the right rather than the left. Rory, who played better in the last matches - as, to be fair, Tony did, too - keeps his place. But in the Test side he would be challenged by Nigel Walker, who has shown that he is something more than a pretty pair of legs.

The choice of centres assumes that Jeremy Guscott and Scott Gibbs will be available. If Jack Rowell is prepared to risk Guscott, so can we. Will Carling must go, too, even though there are some who would dispute his claim. This leaves one vacancy. From several candidates, I plump for Nigel Davies on account of his ability (seen in some football midfield players) to split a defence with one pass.

At outside-half Eric Elwood, Gregor Townsend and Neil Jenkins can all advance plausible claims. But I am going for the tried and trusted firm of Rob Andrew and Stuart Barnes - with Barnes the first choice, having responsibility for goal- kicking as well.

The selection of scrum-halves is less difficult. Dewi Morris did as much as Andrew to win the French match, and was almost as authoritative against Wales. But, until he broke his thumb, Gary Armstrong did enough to show he was still the best scrum- half in the four countries.

The red mists happily kept free of Peter Clohessy during the last season. He and Jeff Probyn should have been the tight-head props on the last Lions tour, and I am tempted to take the venerable furniture-maker on this one as a just reward. But prudence asserts itself, and the place goes to John Davies. Nick Popplewell and Jason Leonard are easier choices on the loose- head side.

At hooker, Brian Moore has had one of his best seasons, maybe because he thought his position was threatened. My second choice would be Kenny Milne.

The question at lock is whether we take Martin Bayfield, out of sorts in 1994. I should do so. No one can be a world-class player at one minute, as Bayfield was, and a nobody six months later. Nigel Redman and Martin Johnson must on recent form go, too. My fourth lock is Neil Francis, who does not seem to be such a troubled spirit as he once was. My heart goes out to Gareth Llewellyn, who misses selection yet again, and to Phil Davies, who was as inspiring for Wales as the returned Dean Richards for England.

I have only two controversial choices. One is Peter Walton, who proved to be an outstanding No 6 for Scotland. Traditionally, the second No 7 slot is filled by an Irishman whom no one has ever heard of and who may not even have played for his country. Instead, I am going for Neil Back, who has yet to receive a fair run with England.

The captain is Richards, the vice- captain Evans, and the captain of the Wednesday side Andrew, though naturally he might supplant Barnes in the Test team. The national composition is: Scotland and Ireland four each, Wales 7, England 15. Who says I am biased against the English?

The party: A Clement, G Hastings; I Evans, S Geoghegan, N Walker, R Underwood, J Guscott, S Gibbs, N Davies, W Carling; S Barnes, R Andrew, G Armstrong, D Morris; P Clohessy, J Davies, N Popplewell, J Leonard, B Moore, K Milne, N Redman, M Johnson, M Bayfield, N Francis, P Walton, T Rodber, B Clarke, N Back, S Quinnell, D Richards.