Rugby Union: Lions seek pack to enter All Blacks' den with pride: The British Isles party to tour New Zealand this summer will be named tomorrow. Chris Rea makes his own selection

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The Independent Online
THE LIONS have at least started well. They have, in Geoff Cooke, Ian McGeechan and Dick Best, the makings of a well-equipped management. Cooke's relative inexperience of New Zealand rugby, its passion and pressures, will be offset by the fact that his chief coach has toured the country both as a player and as coach.

In 1977, McGeechan was part of a Lions side which struck every discordant note possible, but 13 years later the Scottish side he coached came tantalisingly close to beating the All Blacks in their spiritual home at Eden Park.

The Lions selectors who sit down today to choose the 30 players for this summer's tour to New Zealand have an uncommonly difficult task. The future of the Lions, and the broader fabric of British rugby, could be at stake. Another humiliation similar to the one which befell Ciaran Fitzgerald's side in 1983 would mean the beginning of the end.

The outcome of the Test series will, as always, depend on what happens up front. The least encouraging aspect of this season's international championship has been the shifting fortunes of the forwards. France outscrummaged England; Scotland, much to everyone's surprise, held France in Paris before giving ground to Wales, who were in turn put under pressure by Ireland.

England's line-out has been inconsistent, not helped by the selectors' determination to persevere with Martin Bayfield as the front jumper. Not only has it undermined Bayfield's confidence, but it appears to have had an adverse effect on Brian Moore's throwing in, even to the shorter line-outs. Against Wales, the Scots gave the most convincing forward display of the season, although subsequent events against Ireland in Cardiff led one to question the quality of the opposition. The inescapable conclusion was that the Welsh forwards were so woeful that not one of them merited selection for the tour.

This must be of great concern to the selectors who, at the 11th hour, have a shallow pool of forwards. In 1977, Mike Burton, Sandy Carmichael and Iain McLauchlan, all with distinguished Lions service behind them, were left out of the tour party. The alternatives for this tour are distinctly limited. Jason Leonard and the Irishman Nick Popplewell are the only two candidates at loose-head, and Moore and Kenny Milne have no challengers at hooker.

Jeff Probyn, for his expertise and obduracy not to mention his whimsical humour and refreshingly relaxed approach, would be an invaluable member of the party. He will surely go as one of the tight- heads along with Paul Burnell or perhaps even Peter Wright, who can play on both sides of the scrum.

There is more choice at lock with Bayfield, Wade Dooley, Damien Cronin, Andrew Reed, Gareth Llewellyn, Neil Francis, Doddie Weir and Martin Johnson all in the frame. The season has not been kind to Dooley and perhaps the selectors will consider this to be a tour too far for one of the finest forwards of his time.

The danger in taking Dooley is that if, as many suspect, his time is up, this tour would only accelerate the downward slide, which would be sad for the player and calamitous for the team. On the other hand, dare the selectors set forth without his know-how and physical bulk? Bayfield, who has the potential to flourish in a touring environment, seems certain to be one of the middle jumpers. Reed, who has been a revelation in the Scottish side, could be the other.

Francis should go, not for past deeds, but for what a player of his talent might achieve given daily hard work and the incentive to judge himself by the highest standards. My fourth lock would come from Johnson, Cronin or Weir. A good case can be made for all three, but I would go for Johnson.

Past experience has shown that the Lions' back row combination will be crucial. In 1971 and 1974, the Lions built their back row around Mervyn Davies who, as a tackling, ball-winning No 8, has yet to be surpassed. England, in my view, have been right to keep faith with Ben Clarke. But in New Zealand, McGeechan will require the strength, hand-to-hand combat skills and tactical command of Dean Richards, especially if the Lions deny themselves Dooley's physical presence and mauling power.

If Richards goes the Lions will need speed and mobility on the flanks. Peter Winterbottom and Neil Back, highly regarded by the New Zealanders during the B tour last summer, would be my open- side flankers, and I have settled for Mike Teague and Derek Turnbull on the blind side.

Were he not an Englishman, John Hall would have made many more international appearances, but his career has been sadly restricted by injury and the fierce competition for places on England's flanks. He would, however, be a huge asset in New Zealand. I would also like to find a place for Weir, and he may be picked as cover for the second and back rows.

Committing the opposition loose forwards in the tight will be the job of the Lions' pack; forcing them to defend will be one of the main tasks for the scrum-halves. If the selectors go for two players of similar style, then Gary Armstrong and Dewi Morris, who can absorb physical abuse and still come back for more, are the favourites. But if they opt for players of contrasting styles, then Robert Jones should accompany Armstrong. Whether or not a season spent behind Wales' wilting pack has irreparably damaged his confidence and technique is for the selectors to judge. Personally, I would take him.

Stuart Barnes, who began the season as third choice for England, is now being touted as the Test fly-half, and, following the injury to Craig Chalmers, Rob Andrew will be chosen too.

Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott will be the first choice centres with Scott Gibbs and Scott Hastings as back up. On the wings I would take both Underwoods and the Welsh captain Ieuan Evans with Tony Clement as the utility back. Matthew Dawson, of Northampton, can provide more than adequate cover at scrum-half, but Clement's pace would be invaluable both at centre and at full-back where Gavin Hastings, Jon Webb and Ian Hunter are the front runners though there is a suggestion that Webb would not be thrilled at being a regular member of the midweek side.

This he would certainly be, even if Hastings is not made captain, as the Scot is probably the finest player in his position in the world. The debate over the captaincy is soon to be resolved between Hastings and Carling. Full-back is a difficult position from which to lead a side, as was shown in the Calcutta Cup a fortnight ago when Chalmers left the field. Also, the argument that Carling's game is inhibited by his captaincy of England was without a shred of substance last season when he was, by common consent, the outstanding player in the championship. Furthermore, as more than half of the Test side are likely to be Englishmen, there may be more points in Carling's favour than for Hastings.

CHRIS REA'S LIONS 30

Full-backs: G Hastings (Sco), J Webb (Eng).

Wings: I Evans (Wal), R Underwood, T Underwood (both Eng).

Centres: W Carling (Eng, capt), S Gibbs (Wal), J Guscott (Eng), S Hastings (Sco).

Fly-halves: R Andrew, S Barnes (both Eng).

Scrum-halves: G Armstrong (Sco), R Jones (Wal).

Utility back: T Clement (Wal).

Props: P Burnell (Sco), J Leonard (Eng), N Popplewell (Irl), J Probyn (Eng).

Hookers: K Milne (Sco), B Moore (Eng).

Locks: M Bayfield (Eng), N Francis (Irl), M Johnson (Eng), A Reed (Sco).

Flankers: N Back (Leicester), M Teague (Eng), D Turnbull (Sco), P Winterbottom (Eng).

No 8s: B Clarke (Eng) D Richards (Eng).

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