Rugby Union: Morris passed in tests

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MY EPITAPH will, I hope, be that I was a hard man but a just man. Last season, I wrote that England beat France because of faulty refereeing. At the beginning of this season, I cast doubt on Ian Hunter's try against Canada. Today, I have no hesitation in saying that Dewi Morris scored a perfectly valid try on Saturday and that England were wrongly denied victory.

Certainly if Hunter's try is allowed, Morris's must be as well: it is an a fortiori case. But we need not go back to the Wembley match. What happened on Saturday was that Morris was tackled just short of the line. He then stretched forward and grounded the ball on the line.

The relevant note to Law 18 states that: 'If a tackle occurs in such a position that the tackled player, whilst complying with the law, is able to place the ball on or over the goal-line he may do so to score a try.'

The crucial question is whether Morris was complying with the law after the tackle. Eddie Butler (a former Welsh captain) had no doubt that Morris had scored. This was his instantaneous response on television.

With more leisure to contemplate, Robert Horner, the chairman of the referees' sub-committee of the Rugby Football Union, takes the same view. The important factor was that Morris took, in Horner's words, 'immediate action'. But he is not complaining on behalf of England. He merely agrees with Butler, Rob Andrew, with me and, doubtless, with numerous others.

Still, it was a famous victory. And, with only two Saturdays of the international season gone, there is keen dispute about the composition of the Lions party to tour New Zealand. Before the Five Nations' Championship began, we saloon-bar selectors had already pencilled in several names. Today, we are having to revise our assessments.

Take the wings. The favourites were Hunter, Simon Geoghegan, and Rory and Tony Underwood. Ieuan Evans was considered to be too prone to injury and to have lost his edge. And yet on Saturday he looked faster, fitter and sharper than he had for years.

Rory Underwood, by contrast, has always been liable to enter a world of his own. This is perhaps so not despite but because of his very great speed: for fast players tend to be easily bored and to believe, even subconsciously, that their pace can be relied upon to extricate them from any trouble.

And now Derek Stark has arrived on the scene. He went round Geoghegan three weeks ago and scored a fine try, as did his partner, Tony Stanger. On current form, the choices are Evans, Hunter, Stanger and Stark, which would mean taking three players who currently perform on the right.

Even before Saturday's match, Ian McGeechan had indicated that Will Carling would not necessarily be captain. His preference is believed to be for Gavin Hastings. I think this would be a mistake, for two reasons.

First, Hastings and McGeechan are Scots. When the two most important individuals in a touring party are fellow-nationals, allegations of favouritism, justified or not, are liable to be made over selection of the Test team.

You do not have to go to what used to be Yugoslavia to know the force of nationalism. You have only to be in Cardiff when Wales have beaten England. A Lions party is most harmonious when the two management figures, together with the captain and vice- captain, come one each from the four home countries.

Second, Hastings is not unassailable, great player though he is, and well though he has played this season. He is likely to be challenged by Jon Webb, or if Webb does not go, by Mike Rayer. This is not to say Hastings is, or would be, a latter-day version of Ciaran Fitzgerald, who caused much justified resentment when, as captain, he kept the superior hooker Colin Deans out of all the Test sides in New Zealand in 1983. Preferably, the captain should be unchallengable in his position.

This puts the selectors in a difficulty, for Robert Jones will be challenged by Gary Armstrong, and Rob Andrew by Stuart Barnes. Indeed, it is now being suggested that Barnes should replace Andrew in the England team. Perhaps - who knows? - the captaincy should go to a Welshman, for Wales have usually managed to produce their best form immediately before a Lions tour.

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