Rugby Union: Lions bounce back in joyous manner: Exuberant running and handling help tourists to their biggest win

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AS HAS become their frustrating habit, the Lions played in fits and starts even while running up seven tries and almost a half-century at Rugby Park yesterday. But if the performance was imperfect, the therapy after the savage disappointment of losing the first Test was absolutely perfect and much of the rugby a joy.

This had partly to do with the determination of those - the entire XV - who did not face the All Blacks to stake their claim for the second Test in Wellington on Saturday week. But equally it concerned the quality of play the midweek side produced as long as they maintained their concentration and eliminated the unforced errors which mean certain destruction in New Zealand.

The Lions pack had a massive height and weight advantage and, once they exploited it and established a reasonable balance between driving forward play and quick release to the backs, some of their exuberant running and handling was of the highest order.

This did not come easily against opponents lately promoted into the NZ First Division. Taranaki tried to emulate the fast-moving strategy with which Otago had beaten the Lions and, though they could not do it nearly as well, they caused enough alarm and confusion in the first half to make us wonder whether this was about to be another bad day.

We need not have worried. Even the injuries which caused Mick Galwey, Mike Teague and Robert Jones to be replaced are not thought to be serious - a change in itself - and though the referee hammered them in the second half the Lions had enough dubious decisions go their way in the first not to let Steve Walsh distress them unduly.

Indeed Taranaki's early effort blew itself out early enough for the Lions to be in the lead at half-time, tries by Damian Cronin and Teague answering one by Bernie O'Sullivan. And by the time Andrew Slater and Shane McDonald added two more for Taranaki, the Lions were breaking through at regular intervals; Vincent Cunningham scored twice, Robert Jones, Richard Wallace and Scott Gibbs once.

The consequence was, by a mile, the biggest Lions win over Taranaki and of this tour, though the home captain, the All Blacks reserve Mark Allen, warned against excessive elation. 'You have to put it into perspective. We're only a very small pack and when it comes to First Division rugby we're only going to be at the tail-end of it.'

More important was what the game told the Lions selectors with Auckland next up on Saturday and the Test to follow. The experiment of playing Jason Leonard at tight-head prop worked well enough for the Londoner to warrant another run against the Auks, and the Lions' overwhelming line-out supremacy and the steadily increasing impact of the newly arrived lock Martin Johnson means he too should be tried again then.

There is every prospect that Johnson will push straight into the Test side - which would be a peculiar irony, since the management announced last night that Wade Dooley, whom Johnson replaced after the death of Dooley's father, would be returning to New Zealand today with the full approval of the NZ Rugby Union.

This will leave 31 Lions on tour, because there is no such luck for Andy Nicol, the stand- by scrum-half who became a five-minute Lion when he replaced the diplomatically injured Jones. Nicol will probably depart on Sunday. 'I'm supposed to be in Hawaii with the Scotland team on a beach,' he said after yesterday's cameo contribution. So would he rather be in Hawaii? 'Would I hell.'

Taranaki: Tries O'Sullivan, A Slater, McDonald; Conversions Crowley 2; Penalties Crowley 2. British Isles: Tries Cunningham 2, Cronin, Teague, Jones, Wallace, Gibbs; Conversions Barnes 4; Penalties Barnes 2.

TARANAKI: K Crowley (Kaponga); D Murfitt (Tukapa), K Mahon (Inglewood), K Eynon, A Martin (Clifton); J Cameron (Tukapa), W Dombroski (Inglewood); M Allen (capt), S McDonald (Stratford), G Slater (New Plymouth Old Boys), B O'Sullivan (Inglewood), J Roache (Eltham), A Slater (New Plymouth Old Boys), N Hill (Inglewood), F Mahoni (Spotswood United).

BRITISH ISLES: A Clement (Wales); R Wallace (Ireland), S Gibbs (Wales), V Cunningham (Ireland), T Underwood; S Barnes (England, capt), R Jones (Wales); P Wright (Scotland), B Moore, J Leonard, M Johnson (England), D Cronin (Scotland), M Teague (England), M Galwey (Ireland), R Webster (Wales). Replacements: B Clarke (England) for Galwey, 32; A Nicol (Scotland) for Jones, 76; K Milne (Scotland) for Teague, 76.

Referee: S Walsh (Wellington).

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