Rugby Union: Lions lack essential green mix

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IT HAS not been a great Five Nations' Championship, it may not even have been a very good one, but it has been quite exciting. All the countries have something to show for it.

France won and won well, scoring more tries than any other team. Even if they did not attain the heights of the old, pre-Jacques Fouroux days, they recaptured some of their former speed and inventiveness.

Scotland held France, annihilated Wales but collapsed against England, though that may have had more to do with the early departure of Craig Chalmers than with anything else.

Ireland can look back on the season with perhaps more satisfaction than any other team - except over the composition of the Lions party to tour New Zealand during the summer. They beat England and Wales and, like Scotland, held France until the end of the match.

England were lucky to beat France and unlucky not to beat Wales.

Wales showed signs of recovery but the pack still have a long way to go. The Welsh Rugby Union has even further to travel. It will be difficult to put it together again so that it can make even a start on the journey.

In a fair world, the results would have been slightly, though not very, different. France would have beaten England but drawn with Scotland, while England would have beaten Wales. This would have left France with three wins, one draw and seven points; Scotland with two wins, one draw and five; England and Ireland with two wins and five points each; and Wales with no wins and no points.

So much for the correspondents who claim that I am biased in favour of my native land. Wales did not really deserve to win a single match.

If you accept my broad picture of the season, you will see that the people who have the greatest cause to complain about the composition of the Lions party are not the Irish (though they may have cause as well), but the Scots. This, of course, rests on the assumption that national quotas should closely reflect the relative positions of the countries in the final pecking order.

I am afraid that I do not accept this version of proportional representation. There will be some rough correspondence to championship placings, but unsuccessful teams can include numerous outstanding players; whereas successful teams can be and often are composed largely of mediocrities.

And there is history to be considered as well. The Lions have tended to function best with a strong Irish influence among the forwards and a strong Welsh influence among the backs. Willie John McBride and, until he was injured, Ray McLoughlin were the primary forward forces in 1971; together, of course, with Mervyn Davies.

After the two first-choice props had been hurt in the notorious Canterbury match, Sean Lynch was as much a hero as Ian McLauchlan. (I hope, incidentally, that referees will be keeping a close watch on the activities of Richard Loe, if the New Zealanders choose him.)

I should have been happier if Neil Francis had gone as a lock, if Mick Galwey had been chosen in that position, too, instead of as a flanker, and if there had been at least one and maybe two tourists from the Irish back row. I should have been happier still if Neil Back and Lyn Jones had been going as open-side flankers, but we are here in the realms of creative imagination rather than of rough reality.

This is a matter not just of Lions history but of rugby politics as well. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. Not only do the Lions represent the whole British Isles. Ireland is, for rugby purposes - and I believe, for rugby purposes only - a united country, though precious little good that does to anybody.

I think the selectors should have chosen their Test side without any regard to the four nations. Having done that, they should have tried to assemble a party of 30 of at least half a dozen players from each nation. Before the match in Dublin, it would have been hard to nominate six Irishmen. After it, there was - or should have been - no difficulty at all.