Rugby Union: Lions turn to unconvincing psychological warfare

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The Independent Online
IN THE land of sheep, the Lions management tried to pull the wool over the All Blacks last night when they 'revealed' a squad of 23 for Saturday's second Test at Athletic Park. It was about as convincing as the midweek Lions' performance in capitulating to Hawke's Bay, writes Steve Bale from Wellington.

After dropping the first Test, this is a match the tourists must win to keep the three-match series alive and, not withstanding the narrow miss in Christchurch, the task has become harder with the subsequent defeats by Auckland and the Bay. If the Lions are as decisive in their rugby as the management have been in their team announcement they will have no chance.

The original intention was to name names whatever the injury problems. But by last night the condition of Gavin Hastings, the Lions captain, and Dean Richards was apparently such that this had become impossible. The only official certainty is that Martin Johnson and Martin Bayfield will pack down in the second row.

The real reason for the psychological warfare swiftly became clear: the Lions wish to keep as much information as possible from New Zealand. They trained in private before leaving Napier yesterday - though Norman Hewitt, the Hawke's Bay captain, was among the interested onlookers - and did so again here today.

'It means the All Blacks have to practise without knowing the line- up,' Geoff Cooke, the manager, said. 'Any slight edge we can take into the game, the better it is. We know their side; they aren't sure about ours.' Even so, Hewitt will doubtless have passed on the requisite intelligence.

This particularly affects the alternatives if either Hastings or Richards fails to make it. Anthony Clement would replace the captain at full-back; Ben Clarke would be moved to No 8 if Richards were absent, with Mike Teague winning the blind-side place ahead of Richard Webster.

As Cooke added, the Lions' subterfuge does not mean the All Blacks cannot make an educated guess. They probably already know that the side who, but for Jason Leonard's and Richards's late withdrawal, would have started against Auckland last Saturday will be the choice for the Test.

This presumes both Hastings (hamstring) and Richards (calf) will be fit, though neither has trained this week. There is concern, too, about Leonard, who has had a shoulder injury threatening his switch from loose-head prop to tight head instead of Paul Burnell.

Will Carling's revivalist showing in the calamitous Hawke's Bay defeat was evidently insufficient for him to retain his centre place against the worthy challenge of Scott Gibbs. Brian Moore has ousted Ken Milne at hooker and Johnson, Wade Dooley's tour replacement, has had no difficulty in doing the same to Andy Reed at lock.

The actual selection was finalised after another private session today. The All Blacks were also behind closed doors, their coach Laurie Mains having begun the familiar process of trying to get at the referee, Patrick Robin, of France.

Mains was dissatisfied with Brian Kinsey's handling of the Christchurch Test - which, given the Lions' publicly stated displeasure, is a variation on a theme. 'After looking at the video, it's quite a lot clearer what was going on,' Mains said. 'The biggest problem with our lack of ball retention was the Lions handling the ball in the rucks. We were placing the ball and they were handling it. That was why we lost second-phase ball.'

For a New Zealand coach to complain of opposition illegalities is habitual - and ludicrous given that the All Blacks have never failed whenever it suits to perpetrate the very trangressions of which they accuse others. 'It only goes to show they are worried about us,' Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, retorted.

BRITISH ISLES (v New Zealand, Wellington, 26 June): (probable) G Hastings (Scotland, capt); I Evans (Wales), J Guscott (England), S Gibbs (Wales), R Underwood; R Andrew, D Morris (England); N Popplewell (Ireland), B Moore, J Leonard (England), M Johnson, M Bayfield, B Clarke, D Richards, P Winterbottom (England). Squad members: S Barnes (England), P Burnell (Scotland), A Clement (Wales), W Carling (England), R Jones (Wales), K Milne (Scotland), M Teague (England), R Webster (Wales).

Sir Ewart Bell, the former chairman of the International Board, is to take charge of the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

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