British Isles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30
WHEN you consider how gut- wrenchingly important this match was for the Lions, you can perhaps forgive them the manifold failings which made it only a modest start to their tour of New Zealand. They were weighed down with anxiety.
Good for them, then, that they emerged with credit from a considerable ordeal. The trouble is that from here it gets harder and the weaknesses which characterised victory at Okara Park will be fatal when the opposition are first division. North Auckland may be quality opposition enjoying a run of form but their status is still only second division.
'We knew that defeat would be catastrophic to morale, so a win was imperative,' said Stuart Barnes, the Lions captain until Gavin Hastings replaced the distraught Ian Hunter. Which only goes to show that the results in New Zealand will count for far more than the performances.
At times, though, it was actually rather a good performance, the rugby which produced the Lions' four tries a contrasting mixture of bold attack, strong forward play and the exploitation of error. If the Lions had not tended toward the panic-stricken, it might have been nigh-on perfect.
Instead they missed a glut of first- time tackles and often had the jitters when a defensive decision needed taking. 'A Lions tour is still the biggest thing you can achieve and there are a lot of nerves around,' Barnes said.
Anthony Clement personified the problem. He missed a critical tackle in the long-range build-up to Doug Te Puni's early North Auckland try and later spilled the ball as a prelude to their side's second. Talking of nerves, he was a bag of them.
But, like the Lions collectively, he came through his personal crisis and fearlessly drove through thick traffic for the Lions' third try - by which time he had been moved to the wing to accommodate Gavin Hastings after Ian Hunter's departure. By his presence, Hastings induced order where there had been intermittent chaos.
Clement had also been involved in the creation of the first try, a glorious piece of invention carried on by Barnes and finished by Jeremy Guscott. Two minutes later when Robert Jones's kick was gathered on the full by Rory Underwood, who sent Scott Hastings in for another try history was being made - not by Hastings - but by Paul Burnell, who had temporarily replaced Peter Wright while Wright was being stitched. With that, Burnell became the first temporary replacement under the new International Board law.
These tries revealed the Lions at their best, but if their best was more than good enough for North Auckland their worst was pretty awful, reflecting their unfamiliarity with each other as well as with the relentless physicality of New Zealand rugby.
Nor could they keep their best going for more than a few minutes at a time. The Lions spent much of the second half defending, so weary in the end that Troy Going slipped in for a try which would not have happened if the referee had detected the illicit assistance of a ball-boy in a quick North Auckland line-out.
Still, if anyone was complaining about the referee it was North
Auckland which, given the usual context of Lions tours, is a decent joke. As was Sid Going's contention that the Lions spent much of the match offside.
The answer to the North Auckland coach is that his team were no better. Miracle of miracles, a Lions side did precisely what All Blacks have always done and played to the referee. In fact Going was deliberately meek and mild in his criticism of the Lions but by yesterday his comments had turned into banner headlines.
'Illegal Lions]' gives the flavour, though this sort of comment generally means no more than that New Zealanders are worried. For one thing, the Lions forwards exploded the theory that they would be too slow. Richard Webster and Ben Clarke had notable games and, when he was not being lifted, Damian Cronin was a constant source of line-out supply once he and Brian Moore, had established a working relationship.
For now the Lions deserve the benefit of the doubt. 'Don't forget that team had never played a match together,' Geoff Cooke, the manager, noted. 'We are going to get better - and we know we have to.' And fast.
North Auckland: Tries Te Puni, Seymour, T Going; Conversion Johnston. British Isles: Tries Guscott, S Hastings, Clement, R Underwood; Conversions Barnes, G Hastings; Penalties Barnes, G Hastings.
NORTH AUCKLAND: W Johnston (Southern); T Going, C Going (Mid Northern), M Seymour (Hora Hora), D Manako (Waipapa); A Monaghan (Kamo), R Le Bas (Hikurangi); L Davies, D Te Puni (Mid Northern), C Barrell, I Jones (Kamo, capt), E Jones (City), G Taylor (Hora Hora), K Tuipolotu (Waipapa), A Going (Mid Northern). Replacements: R Hilton- Jones (Hikurangi) for Tuipolotu, 56; L Sigley (Hikurangi) for Te Puni, 77.
BRITISH ISLES: A Clement (Wales); I Hunter (England), S Hastings (Scotland), J Guscott, R Underwood; S Barnes (England, capt), R Jones (Wales); J Leonard, B Moore (England), P Wright, D Cronin, A Reed (Scotland), M Galwey (Ireland), B Clarke (England), R Webster (Wales). Replacement: G Hastings (Scotland) for Hunter, 38; P Burnell (Scotland) for Wright, 24-26.
Referee: L McLachlan (Dunedin).
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content