Rugby Union: Lions learn Test fate by dawn post

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The Independent Online
The mind games are dead and gone. Fran Cotton, the Lions manager, has abandoned his Chinese whispers approach to this Saturday's opening Test with South Africa in Cape Town and will instead reveal his line-up tomorrow, some 48 hours in advance of his initial timing. "The players know the team but, while there are some very disappointed people in the party, the mood is superb and there is no reason to delay," he said.

Not that the Springboks were remotely impressed by all the cloak and dagger nonsense anyway. Carel du Plessis, their coach, was yesterday entirely dismissive of the Lions' naked attempt at psychological warfare: "The way they go about their selection is no concern of mine. I'm happy with the team I have, we're focused on the series ahead and we've analysed all the points and all the players. We're confident of adjusting to whatever combination the Lions throw at us."

Yesterday was a red letter day for 15 Lions, a half-way house for the six on the bench and a dead letter day for those 14 bystanders left outside in the freezing stuff. Cotton personally wrote to each player and Sam Peters, the party's administrative assistant, acted as postman at 7.45 in the morning, slipping the different notes under the players' doors.

"We agreed during our week-long get-together in Surrey before the start of the tour that selection was a pretty harsh business if those picking the side simply read out the team in front of a gathering of the entire squad," said Cotton, who was not exactly noted for sparing emotions during his playing days. "I think this approach is far better as those left out know they can talk to me at any time to find out the whys and wherefores. We wanted to make sure that those disappointed players had an hour to come to terms with that disappointment before they faced everyone else."

The Lions prepared in secret at Stellenbosch University, the cradle of South African rugby, and, irrespective of the mixed feelings among the squad, they trained with a vengeance for more than three hours. Only Eric Miller, the Irish No 8, failed to turn out - he was suffering from a flu bug yesterday - but Cotton said the 21-year-old was well on the road to recovery.

"There are one or two bumps and bruises and illnesses to sort out before we confirm the line-up in public," Cotton said. "This is Test week, there is no longer any escape and it is absolutely imperative that everyone who takes the field at Newlands is 100 per cent fit."

The tour hierarchy have already spoken to Saturday's referee, Colin Hawke of New Zealand, about law interpretation and they plan another meeting over the next 36 hours. "We've tried to operate within the boundaries applied by the South African referees since we've been here and we need to make sure that Colin is planning to follow similar lines," said Ian McGeechan, the Lions' coach.

"I don't foresee too many problems because most of the leading southern hemisphere officials have been involved in major Super 12 matches already this season. As long as we know what to expect in and around the tackle area, we'll be happy."

The Springboks are distinctly unhappy at the clause in the tour agreement that prevents them playing their old and new national anthems before Saturday's kick-off. "The rule has been made and we'll have to accept it, but it's important to us and we'll find somewhere to sing the anthems, even if it's in the dressing-room," said Gary Teichmann, the South African captain, who yesterday confirmed his recovery from hamstring trouble. Traditionally, the Lions play without an anthem.