British Isles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
THE worst fears for the fate of the midweek Lions when they collided with New Zealand's national champions were not fearful enough. At Rugby Park yesterday the non-Test team, already humbled by Hawke's Bay a week earlier, were made to look second-raters.
Which is precisely what they have become as the tour selection has differentiated increasingly sharply between the first choice and the seconds. Yes, Waikato are wonderful and played wonderfully to destroy the Lions - but they are a provincial side and even these Lions are all internationals. They had 288 caps, Waikato had five.
The management said this result and performance had no relevance to Saturday's decider against the All Blacks, but equally the Lions' magnificent victory in the second Test might just as well not have happened for all the good it did yesterday's men.
They were outwitted as much as outplayed, slow in response to the breathtaking variety of Waikato's strategy - a conscious effort to get away from the predictability of much of New Zealand rugby. It was the province's first win over the Lions and the worst provincial defeat any Lions have suffered.
The torpor spread from the Scottish front five, who made it impossible for everyone else by consistently failing to make their first-time tackles and thereby throwing the responsibility for bringing down hulking forwards on to the backs. The sight of Andy Reed's arms raised, as if in surrender, as Craig Stevenson careered past him was perfectly symbolic.
Geoff Cooke, the manager, and Ian McGeechan, the coach, asserted that this was a less poor performance than the capitulation to Hawke's Bay. But at the same time surely it was reasonable to expect a sharp improvement for the biggest midweek match of the tour. Instead Reed and Damian Cronin looked as if they were already off the tour and Peter Wright clearly should never have been on it.
One presumes that the banner in the crowd which read 'U got Bull (a reference to Mark Allen, the All Black reserve prop). We've got Peter Wright' was a cruel jest. The fact is Wright has found the going impossibly tough throughout New Zealand no matter what the opposition, and the others have subsided as their fatigue has grown and their mental attitude deteriorated.
Why is there such a clear disparity between the two Lions sides? Cooke was asked. 'I find that very difficult to answer,' he said. 'Can you explain why the Scottish front five have performed so far below their Five Nations level, ' McGeechan was asked. 'I can't'
He added that it was very different in New Zealand from the Five Nations - a fair comment which seemed to reflect an awkward truth that, however good the British Isles Test team, the depth of quality of international players in the home unions is embarrassingly shallow. All right, to have to play the national champions between two Tests is asking the impossible but these Lions should have made a better fist of it.
Instead Waikato scored almost before the Lions had blinked, Doug Wilson's try coming after 49 seconds, and by half-time the score had soared to 26-3 with two further tries coming from Duane Monkley, a superb flanker all of Waikato believes should be an All Black. Once it was too late, the Lions increased their share of the game but even so Aaron Collins and Warren Gatland kept the score mounting with Waikato's fourth and fifth tries.
Finally Will Carling, who of all the Lions deserved it most, pulled back a consolation try which should have been disallowed when Richard Wallace put a foot in touch. Carling, captain for a day he would prefer to forget, played nobly despite considerable discomfort from a shoulder injury.
Anthony Clement, Tony Underwood and Richard Webster also deserve individual exemption from the wider censure but collectively this was as agonising as the Wellington Test had been ecstatic. The very least that should be expected of a Lion is that he has a lion's heart.
Waikato: Tries Monkley 2, Wilson, Collins, Gatland; Conversions Cooper 2; Penalties Cooper 3. British Isles: Try Carling; Conversion Barnes; Penalty Barnes.
WAIKATO: M Cooper (Marist); D Wilson (University), A Collins (Hamilton Old Boys), R Ellison (University), W Warlow (Te Rapa); I Foster (Te Awamutu Sports), S Crabb (Fraser Tech); C Stevenson (Hautapu), W Gatland (Taupiri), G Purvis (Hamilton Old Boys), S Gordon (Taupiri), B Anderson (Marist), R Jerram (Taupiri), J Mitchell (capt), D Monkley (Fraser Tech). Replacement: M Russell (Hamilton Old Boys) for Anderson, 72.
BRITISH ISLES: A Clement (Wales); R Wallace, V Cunningham (Ireland), W Carling (capt), T Underwood; S Barnes (England), R Jones (Wales); P Wright, K Milne, P Burnell, D Cronin, A Reed (Scotland), M Teague (England), M Galwey (Ireland), R Webster (Wales).
Referee: T Marshall (Christchurch).
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