Rugby Union: Lions tread `hard yards'

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The Independent Online
The Lions might have been forgiven for thinking they had experienced every emotion from the sublime to the unconscionable over the past seven days, but in the jet-set age of Super 12 new dangers lurk around every corner. When the tourists face Northern Transvaal, the Blue Bulls of the high veld, in Pretoria today, they will be up to their necks in what South Africans ominously call the "hard yards".

Ian McGeechan, the Lions' coach, left no-one in any doubt yesterday as to the size of the task before a 40,000-strong crowd at Loftus Versfeld. "Northern Transvaal are the first of South Africa's Super 12 provinces on our programme and we are therefore playing our first game against an elite outfit," he said. "If you take the forthcoming Tests into account, we are about to embark on the toughest month of rugby any of us have ever undertaken."

Even though five front-line players, Andre Snyman, Joost van der Westhuizen, Marius Hurter, Krynauw Otto and Ruben Kruger, are missing from the Bulls because of Springbok commitments, Adriaan Richter, the former international No 8, can still call on a fully capped front row of Danie van Schalkwyk, Henry Tromp and Schutte Bekker. Northern Transvaal may have fallen away in the latter stages of the Super 12 tournament but only weeks ago they were good enough to hold Zinzan Brooke's Auckland side to a draw. "We need to find a new level for this game, it's as simple as that," McGeechan said yesterday.

McGeechan stressed the need for discipline among the Lions, which led rather neatly into the latest developments on the Doddie Weir front. Officials from the Mpumalanga union viewed a videotape of Wednesday's match in Witbank and agreed that the assault by Marius Bosman that left Weir's left knee in pieces was worthy of further investigation. The union then criticised Nick Beal, the Lions' full-back, for a high tackle on Dan van Zyl, the home scrum-half. Fran Cotton, the Lions' manager, could not believe his ears. "That," he said, "is obscene." Hard yards indeed.

Northern Transvaal (v Lions, Pretoria, today): G Bouwer; C Steyn, J Schutte, D van Schalkwyk, W Lourens; R de Marigny, C Breytenbach; L Campher, H Tromp, P Boer, D Grobbelaar, D Badenhorst, N van der Walt, A Richter (capt), S Bekker.

LIONS: T Stimpson (Newcastle and England); J Bentley (Newcastle and England), J Guscott (Bath and England), A Tait (Newcastle and Scotland), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); G Townsend (Northampton and Scotland), R Howley (Cardiff and Wales); G Rowntree (Leicester and England), M Regan (Bristol and England), J Leonard (Harlequins and England), M Johnson (Leicester and England; capt), S Shaw (Bristol and England), L Dallaglio (Wasps and England), S Quinnell (Richmond and Wales), E Miller (Leicester and Ireland). Replacements: S Gibbs (Swansea and Wales), M Catt (Bath and England), A Healey (Leicester and England), B Williams (Richmond and Wales), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), T Rodber (Northampton and England).