Rugby Union: Lions prepare for test of temperament: Brawl 'deplored' but no action to be taken. Steve Bale reports from Wellington

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The Independent Online
IS IT wishful thinking, as the Lions prepare for the inevitable crunching collision with the Maoris at Athletic Park tomorrow, to imagine that the All Blacks suddenly look vulnerable? The senior team for their final trial next Tuesday is as near as possible to that which beat South Africa last August and, on paper anyway, they do not seem so awesome after all now that the Lions have begun by winning.

In fact the palpable mood of hope among the Lions after comfortably beating North Auckland and, more significantly, North Harbour will come dangerously close to expectation if they take care of the Maoris as well before moving on to the South Island.

Indeed having defeated North Harbour, with their nine All Blacks and high-quality credentials, the tourists are now expected by New Zealanders to go all the way to the first Test in Christchurch on 12 June without a stain on their record. Canterbury, Otago and Southland lie ahead.

Stains on their character are rather different, though. The song and dance back home about the foul play that rudely interrupted the North Harbour match were followed here yesterday by a statement from Eddie Tonks, the New Zealand Rugby Union chairman, saying that both the British Isles and North Harbour managements 'deplored' what had occurred and had warned their teams that such behaviour was 'totally unacceptable'.

There will be no disciplinary citing of any player since the referee, Alan Riley, dealt with the incident (by penalising Dean Richards). Thank goodness for that: the reaction has been quite disproportionate. It was an isolated flare-up and the real story of the match was of an excellent Lions victory despite a referee who took them to the cleaners.

Regrettable as the brawling was, it was hardly unique. As Geoff Cooke, the tour manager, put it yesterday when his Lions flew into the rain-lashed Kiwi capital city: 'They know they can't back off anything.' This was not a statement of belligerence but simply of the fact that in New Zealand the faint- hearted perish.

Even Frank Bunce, the North Harbour centre who needed 12 stitches in his head after the attention of Dean Richards's boot, confessed that he was offside and - in true New Zealand fashion, made familiar to the England B players last year - probably deserved what he got.

This is not to excuse Richards, whose retributive sore jaw ensured his absence from the team selected yesterday to play the Maoris. But if it sounds naive to suggest that he is by nature not a head- kicker and that he might just have been playing the ball (which did come back from the ruck), I plead naivety.

Of more concern to the Lions management is the distinction between the refereeing of the two New Zealanders they have so far encountered. It is all very well coming to terms with differences in interpretation from the British Isles but to have to do so from game to game is asking the impossible.

Since the Maoris will be nothing if not intensely physical, the important and possibly critical thing in trying circumstances is for the Lions to keep their cool, which they did not necessarily do on Wednesday.

'We've reminded the players of their responsibilities and the need for discipline,' Cooke said. 'We don't want to be the ones to start any trouble.' At the same time the manager, a picture of wounded innocence, will not even concede that his team instigated the aggro against North Harbour.

Two minor casualties of Wednesday's game were yesterday included in the Lions back row despite failing to train. Mike Teague has a bruised calf as a result of a gratuitous raking and Richard Webster has an ankle injury. Tony Underwood and Scott Gibbs, both superb in the threequarters against North Harbour, did not train and will not play.

It is a third variation on the Lions' selection theme and the management's intention is that the other 15, including the replacement wing Richard Wallace, due to arrive today, will face Canterbury next Wednesday. 'We've said to the players we are going to give them all two games each before we get into the serious business,' Cooke said.

This means that the most accurate pointer to the team to play New Zealand will come next Thursday, when the team to play Otago in Dunedin a week tomorrow is named. The competition after the first two matches is such that there are an awful lot of anxious Lions here in Wellington.

NZ MAORIS: S Doyle (Manawatu); E Rush (North Harbour), G Konia (Hawke's Bay), R Ellison (Waikato), A Prince (Nelson Bays); S Hirini (Wellington), S Forster (Otago); G Hurunui (Horowhenua), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay), K Boroevich (North Harbour), M Cooksley, J Coe (Counties), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago, capt), Z Brooke (Auckland).

BRITISH ISLES: G Hastings (Scotland, capt); I Evans (Wales), S Hastings (Scotland), W Carling, R Underwood; S Barnes, D Morris (England); N Popplewell (Ireland), B Moore (England), P Wright, D Cronin (Scotland), W Dooley, M Teague, B Clarke (England), R Webster (Wales). Replacements: A Clement (Wales), J Guscott (England), R Jones (Wales), J Leonard (England), K Milne (Scotland), M Galwey (Ireland).

Referee: G Lempriere (Palmerston North).

Neath's John Davies and Swansea's Paul Arnold will play their first internationals for Wales for over two years in the second Test against Zimbabwe in Harare tomorrow. The pair are among four changes to the side which won the first Test 35-14.

WALES (v Zimbabwe, Harare): M Rayer (Cardiff) or I Jones (Llanelli); S Hill (Cardiff), R Bidgood (Newport), N Boobyer (Llanelli), W Proctor (Llanelli); A Davies (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli); M Griffiths (Cardiff), A Lamerton (Llanelli), J Davies (Neath), G Llewellyn (Neath, capt), P Arnold (Swansea), S Davies (Swansea), E Lewis (Llanelli), L Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: R Howley (Bridgend), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R McBryde (Swansea), H Williams- Jones (South Wales Police), M Perego (Llanelli), P Davies (Llanelli).