Rugby Union: Home fires provide a spark for Lions: Tourists aim to emulate achievement of 1971 predecessors with series victory over All Blacks

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THE LIONS of '93 have one foot in rugby's pantheon but the enormity of their achievement if they win tomorrow's third Test against New Zealand at Eden Park - and with it the series - is some way down their list of motivations. They will just have to lump it; if they win, these boys will never be forgotten.

What really moves them is not so much personal exaltation as the folks back home. Folks who may have wondered whether a British Isles side would ever emulate their glittering predecessors of 1971, the only Lions to have taken a series off the All Blacks.

'We are not only representing the 35 guys who are part of the touring party but also all the supporters who are here, British and Irish people all over the world, family, friends and loved ones back home,' Gavin Hastings, the king of this tour, said when he held court here yesterday. There was scarcely a dry eye in the house.

It is nice to know some modern rugby players have a broad, altruistic vision of their responsibilities. The captain's remarks were particularly apt in view of the debate that is going on in New Zealand about the priorities of All Blacks players who peer out from every other advertising hoarding and are ever- presents in commercial breaks on television.

For instance Fred Allen, a figure of profound respect here who coached the outstanding 1967 All Blacks, believes the present generation is so 'pampered' and money-conscious that their commitment actually to playing the game has diminished. Hence the conclusive second-Test defeat in Wellington, he argues.

Even Laurie Mains, the latest in the line of succession from Allen, agrees to a degree that such initiatives as the All Blacks Supporters' Club, an unabashed attempt to put money into (amateur) players' pockets, has had a detrimental effect. 'It's a matter of finding a balance,' he said.

'Times have changed and the reality is that the players were suffering far too much financially and employment- or career-wise and something had to be done. But I also understand where Fred is coming from.'

It would be agreeable to imagine the Lions alone had sown this doubt, but there is more to it than the All Blacks losing one Test match 20-7 after scraping home 20-18 in another. But the game here was already divided, not least between Auckland and the rest, long before the Lions arrived.

Still, it has been extraordinary during the three weeks since the Christchurch Test how many New Zealanders have expressed their dissatisfaction. Every taxi driver you travel with in Wellington and Auckland will tell you first that the All Blacks were lucky to win the first Test and second that they hoped - yes, hoped - the Blacks would lose the second.

So the country is not even united behind their team. Mains enthusiastically noted yesterday that the Waikato player given the last word on the television coverage of Tuesday's Lions defeat had taken the opportunity to wish the All Blacks well. But John Mitchell, the winning captain, then told the post-match function that Waikato were behind the Lions.

This arises from the national champions' non-representation in the starting line-up of the Test side, and a number of All Blacks careers are - or should be - on the line tomorrow. In this series the distinguished old guard of Kirwan, Fox, Fitzpatrick and Michael Jones have not looked capable of getting through to the next World Cup in 1995.

'It's obvious that we have surprised a lot of people,' Hastings said, expressing the satisfaction of a man whose team were written off before they arrived but now suddenly find themselves favourites. 'The All Blacks have a lot of respect for the Lions and I know you only get the respect of New Zealanders by your performance on the field. We have rattled them.'

Hastings himself has already broken one British Isles record: his 58 Test points have left Phil Bennett's old mark of 44 in the distance. Six points at Eden Park will take him past the series record of 35 Tom Kiernan set in four Tests in South Africa in 1968.

Not that the captain really gives a damn about figures that will be meaningless if the Lions fail. More to the point than his points is the basic truth that touring sides who come to New Zealand and win rank with the greatest the game has produced. The last to do so were the Australians in 1986.

The Lions in 1971, the Springboks in 1937 and a Wallaby side who beat a second-string All Blacks (the firsts were in South Africa) in 1949 are the only others. 'It would be the ultimate achievement, but you can't let that get on top of you,' Hastings said.

'You have to go into the match with a positive and confident attitude but not get too carried away, because we know how pressure can get to people. There was a lot of pressure on us last week but we rose above it. Now we need to do the same again, though there's no question we will have to play even better.'

For this to happen the Lions will need to free their brilliant backs more readily than they did in victory in Wellington while still executing the basics - the tackling, the line-out, the scrum - with the same efficiency.

If they do so, Peter Winterbottom will retire with a rare smile on his stone face. It is asking a lot, but the Lions know that if they do it again indelible glory will be theirs.

NEW ZEALAND: J Timu (Otago); J Kirwan (Auckland), F Bunce (North Harbour), L Stensness, V Tuigamala; G Fox (all Auckland), J Preston (Wellington); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (all Auckland), I Jones (North Auckland), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago), M Jones (Auckland). Replacements: M Cooper (Waikato), A Strachan (North Harbour), M Allen (Taranaki), G Dowd (North Harbour), M Cooksley (Counties), Z Brooke (Auckland).

BRITISH ISLES: G Hastings (Scotland, capt); I Evans (Wales), J Guscott (England), S Gibbs (Wales), R Underwood; R Andrew, D Morris (all England); N Popplewell (Ireland), B Moore, J Leonard, M Johnson, M Bayfield, B Clarke, D Richards, P Winterbottom (all England). Replacements: A Clement (Wales), W Carling (England), R Jones (Wales), P Burnell, K Milne (both Scotland), M Teague (England).

Referee: P Robin (France). Kick-off: 3.30am BST. ITV 2.00am.

(Photograph omitted)

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