Rugby Union: Lions pick Redman as captain

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The Independent Online
Nigel Redman spent much of yesterday pinching himself on the arm and rubbing his eyes in disbelief but by the end of a relaxing afternoon on the shores of the Indian Ocean, the eternally popular second row forward from Bath had finally come to terms with the latest unexpected twist to his rugby career. Two months ago, Redman was weighing up the pros and cons of imminent retirement. This evening, he leads the Lions against Free State in Bloemfontein.

"I said when I arrived in South Africa a couple of weeks ago that being selected for the Lions was beyond belief, but it just gets better," said the 32-year-old paragon of honest-to-goodness sporting dedication whose leadership experience is restricted to an England Under-23 game with Spain in 1985 and a couple of midweek tour matches in Canada four years ago. "Just at the moment, I'm in a dream. Wonderful things keep happening."

Dropped more often in the course of a, 13-year, 20-cap international career than any other player in English history, Redman ended last season as the eighth lock in his country's pecking order. Martin Johnson and Simon Shaw were safely on board with the Lions and five others - John Fowler, Chris Murphy, Martin Bayfield, Garath Archer and his clubmate, Martin Haag - were also rated ahead of the "senior citizen" of the litter. It was only when injuries and under-21 call-ups took their toll that Redman was given the remotest sniff of a place on England's tour of Argentina.

Investing heavily in the gift horse philosophy of life, he performed well enough to force a place in the first Test against the Pumas and, when Doddie Weir was kicked off the Lions tour by the good burghers of Mpumalanga, he received the call from Fran Cotton, the tour manager. Now he captains the non-Test side in perhaps the most demand- ing midweek fixture of the lot.

"It's a big challenge to fly from the coast on the day of the match and play at altitude against a Super 12 side of Free State's quality," said Redman, who also discovered yesterday that he was required for England's one-match trip to Australia in a little over a fortnight's time. "However, I'm sure the difficult circumstances will focus and inspire us." He need have no fear on that score, particularly with a small handful of colleagues chasing places in the line-up for the second Test with the Springboks in Durban on Saturday.

Foremost among those is Eric Miller, the young Irish No 8 originally given the nod for last weekend's Test in Cape Town but forced to withdraw through illness. With the Lions' hierarchy accepting that their side will need to play more expansively if they are to clinch the series at King's Park, a dynamic display from Miller tonight could persuade the selectors to re-think their back row options.

"It's going to take a monumental effort to force a change in a winning line-up," Miller said. His sentiments were echoed by John Bentley, the straight-talking right wing from Newcastle, who added: "Fran has said tonight's performances will be taken into account and he's a man of his word, so it's up to us to give him cause to consider us."

Free State have named a strong side despite the loss of Os du Randt, Naka Drotske, Andre Venter and Werner Swanepoel to the Springboks. Three of their back five forwards - Ryno Opperman, Braam Els and Jaco Coetzee - faced the Lions with the Emerging Springboks and they have Johan Erasmus, their outstanding wing forward, available.

BRITISH ISLES: T Stimpson (Newcastle and England); J Bentley (Newcastle and England), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), W Greenwood (Leicester), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); M Catt (Bath and England), A Healey (Leicester and England); G Rowntree (Leicester and England), B Williams (Richmond and Wales), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), N Redman (Bath and England, capt), S Shaw (Wasps and England), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland), E Miller (Leicester and Ireland), N Back (Leicester and England). Replacements: N Beal (Northampton and England), N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales), K Bracken (Saracens and England), M Regan (Bristol and England), J Leonard (Harlequins and England), A Diprose (Saracens and England).