Rugby Union: Prospective English Lions at bay: Elwood stakes claim for summer tour

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The Independent Online
THE half-dozen men responsible for selecting the British Isles tour party to New Zealand met in London yesterday to make their choice, their previous ideas having been thrown into confusion by the conclusive defeat England, the 6-1 on favourites, had suffered in Ireland. Gavin Hastings of Scotland is now virtually certain to be captain, Will Carling's hopes having been buried amid the wreckage at Lansdowne Road.

The identity of the 30 players destined for two months, 13 matches and two Tests in the Shaky Isles will be revealed today at the East India Club, Pall Mall, and is bound to have been revised as a result of the wipe-out of England's pack in Dublin.

At one time it seemed possible Ireland would be lucky to have more than the prop Nick Popplewell on tour but, after beating England 17-3 while France beat Wales 26-10 to take the Five Nations' title, they could have five or six. These will not include the forwards Pat O'Hara and Terry Kingston, who declared themselves unavailable at the weekend.

'I would think that when the Lions selectors sit down they'll have to give very careful consideration to this result,' Noel Murphy, the Irish manager, said. 'When the Lions side is picked, there should be a lot more Irish than people would have thought at the start of the season.' Murphy, himself a Lion in 1959 and 1966, was the Irish representative among the selectors who chose the 1989 Lions who beat Australia.

The most worried prospective Lions are the England players who played so poorly against Ireland. Geoff Cooke, manager of England and the Lions, warned before the weekend that the final performance was the one that stuck in selectors' minds - though Peter Winterbottom hopes against hope that they will have taken a broader view.

'They're fairly sensible people and they've got to look at the season as a whole,' he said. 'If they just go on that game it will be very difficult. Everyone is anxious now.' English representation, which might have been as high as 17 or 18, could be down to a dozen or so.

'You have to recognise that the Irish players played magnificently,' Cooke said, but added this rider: 'The Lions selectors have to try to put it into context. We are going to play in New Zealand against New Zealand and you have to take players who are going to do the job out there over a long period of time.'

They will also have to look carefully at the unflappable stand-off Eric Elwood, whose emergence from obscurity culminated in 12 points and a hand in Ireland's try on Saturday. Elwood, 24, now has the firm support of two former internationals with inside knowledge of Lions and New Zealand rugby.

Roger Uttley, the former England coach and assistant Lions coach in 1989, and Wayne Shelford, former captain of the All Blacks, said in a radio interview that they would choose him. One senior England committee man said that if the Lions picked him he would be a 'giant' by the time he returned. Elwood said: 'If it happens it would be wonderful.'