Rugby Union: Lions given Mains chance

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The Independent Online
AS THE Lions' tour of New Zealand progresses, the change in attitudes towards them is complete. From being ridiculed in this country as ageing, hidebound no-hopers at the time of the selection in March, they have now become 'as strong a squad as the Lions have ever brought to New Zealand; that includes 1971'.

Who says so? None other than Laurie Mains, the All Blacks coach, and even allowing for a mischievous desire to talk up the opposition, this is strikingly complimentary. Mains, 47, played for New Zealand against the illustrious 1971 side, the only Lions to win a series here.

He was in Whangarei for the 1993 tour opener against North Auckland, in Auckland for the definitive victory over North Harbour and in Wellington for today's third match, against the Maoris at Athletic Park. Already the Lions have revealed more back-subtlety and flair than anyone here had been willing to believe they possessed.

'They had better match-winners in '71 but the '93 vintage are a more rounded and experienced side,' Mains said. 'What you also have to remember about 1971 is that New Zealand were in decline with a lot of players at the end of their careers.'

In other words, the 1971 Lions - Davies, Duckham, Gibson, John, Edwards et al - benefited from unusually poor Test opposition; even the great Colin Meads was a diminished force by the time John Dawes's team beat Meads's 2-1 with one Test drawn. The implication of Mains's remarks is that the 1993 All Blacks are greatly superior to those of '71.

Mains should know. He won his first three caps as the All Blacks full- back in the last three Tests, adding a fourth against Ireland five years later. In fact, when those Lions reached New Zealand they were also rubbished after two matches en route in Australia, where they lost to Queensland and scraped a victory over New South Wales.

Everyone agrees that at least these Lions are better than those of 1983, who lost the series 4-0 but outside the Tests were beaten only by Auckland and Canterbury. 'There's no way this squad can be compared with the one who came here in 1983,' Mains said.

'I'm getting fed up with hearing comments in both New Zealand and Britain about how they are too old and slow. It may be that they do lack speed in certain areas but with their big ball-winning pack they have the ability to play the game at the pace they want.'

Richard Wallace, the replacement wing for the injured Ian Hunter, arrived in Wellington yesterday via Christchurch, where he will smartly return tomorrow when the Lions move on for the Canterbury game.

The Irishman is happy enough to have already been pencilled into the team for Wednesday. 'I've kept myself very fit and I'm very keen to play in Christchurch,' he said, unperturbed that it was there that he had his jaw broken by Andy Earl on Ireland's tour last year. Earl is now in retirement.

Richard Webster withdrew from today's Maori match because of an ankle injury which again prevented him from training yesterday. He was replaced on the Lions flank by Peter Winterbottom.

Wales have been forced to make a fifth change to their team for the second Test against Zimbabwe in Harare today. Full-backs Mike Rayer and Ian Jones both failed fitness tests on their injured ankles yesterday, forcing the Pontypridd stand-off, Neil Jenkins, to fill in at full-back.

Canada will be without their imposing captain, Norm Hadley, for today's international against England in Vancouver. England expect Leicester's Stuart Potter to play immediately after arriving as a replacement.

Scotland prefer Ally Donaldson to Gregor Townsend at stand-off for their international against Fiji at in Suva today.

Canterbury (v British Isles, Christchurch, 2 June): A Lawry; P Bale, S Philpott, K Hansen, S Cleave; G Coffey, G Bachop; G Halford, M Hammett, S Loe, C England, M McAtamney, T Blackadder, R Penney (capt), G Smith.

ENGLAND XV (v Canada, Vancouver today): D Pears (Harlequins); A Buzza (Wasps), D Hopley (Wasps), A N Other, C Oti (Wasps), P Challinor (Harlequins), K Bracken (Bristol); D Rowntree (Leicester), J Olver (Northampton, capt), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall (Bath), R Langhorn (Harlequins), N Back (Leicester).

SCOTLAND (v Fiji, Suva, today): K Logan (Stirling Co); N Grecian (London Scottish), S Nichol (Selkirk), I Jardine (Stirling Co), M Moncrieff (Gala), A Donaldson (Currie), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP, capt); G Isaac (Gala), J Hay (Hawick), S Ferguson (Peebles), C Gray (Nottingham), R Scott (London Scottish), D McIvor (Edinburgh Acads), G Weir (Melrose), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: D Wyllie (Stewart's-Melville FP), G Townsend (Gala), B Redpath (Melrose), C Hogg (Melrose), G Wilson (Boroughmuir), M Scott (Edinburgh Acads)

WALES (v Zimbabwe, Harare today): N Jenkins (Pontypridd); S Hill (Cardiff), R Bidgood (Newport), N Boobyer (Llanelli), W Proctor (Llanelli); A Davies (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli); M Griffiths (Cardiff), A Lamerton (Llanelli), J Davies (Neath), G Llewellyn (Neath, capt), P Arnold (Swansea), S Davies (Swansea), E Lewis (Llanelli), L Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: R Howley (Bridgend), R McBryde (Swansea), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), M Perego (Llanelli), P Davies (Llanelli).