Rugby Union: Lions places set for late deals

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BY HIS match-winning performance for England against Scotland, Stuart Barnes has settled at least one of the Lions places but much of the rest of the tour party is still in a state of flux less than a fortnight before the six selectors make their choice.

As each new round of Five Nations matches elevates new candidates and eradicates others, the choice for the three-Test visit to New Zealand is destined not to be resolved till the last possible moment, after Ireland v England and France v Wales on Saturday week. England's squad for Dublin will be named today with the team finalised on Sunday.

The philosophical point at issue will be whether Geoff Cooke, the manager, Ian McGeechan, the coach, and one selector from each of the home countries vest their faith in the very best 30 players or whether some form of geographical - one might say geo-political - balance overrides this simple consideration.

The influence exerted by Cooke and McGeechan, and how far their perceptions are coloured by being manager of England and coach of Scotland respectively, will be critical in ensuring a party capable of beating the All Blacks.

It is widely believed that these two have an ally in David Richards of Wales, but that the other three, older-guard selectors - Bob Munro (Scotland), Ken Reid (Ireland) and Derek Morgan (England) - are less inclined to give the management (completed by the non-voting assistant coach, Dick Best of England) carte blanche.

The situation is complicated, however, by the evident difference between McGeechan and Cooke on the captaincy, with each favouring his own man. Depending on whom you talk to, the vote between Gavin Hastings and Will Carling is evenly divided, heavily in favour of Hastings or dependent purely on whether and how England beat Ireland in Dublin.

This confirms that there is all to play for, but who would have imagined that Robert Jones, magnificent as scrum-half behind the powerful Lions pack in Australia in 1989, would be in serious danger of missing out? Such is the peril of constantly playing behind struggling forwards.

Alan Watkins, page 30