Rugby Union: Stimpson given chance to boot rivals into touch

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The Independent Online
If goal-kicking is all in the mind, Tim Stimpson's memory will be every bit as important as his right boot when he lines up his first shot in Cape Town tomorrow. In a sharp adjustment of policy the Lions have left their front-line marksmen, Neil Jenkins and Paul Grayson, out of the side to face Western Province at Newlands and handed the responsibility to a 23-year-old rookie who has not taken aim in earnest for more than a year.

The inference is clear. Should the Newcastle full-back deliver the goods in the most intense and demanding environment so far experienced by the tourists, a Test place against the Springboks will be his for the taking.

While it may be a bold call, it is also a worthwhile one. Newlands is hardly the place for Grayson to start rebuilding his shredded confidence following his travails against Border on Wednesday while on Jenkins' own admission Rory Bremner might have given a better impersonation of a Test- class No 15 than he himself managed in Port Elizabeth six days ago.

With Gregor Townsend, the front-runner as the Test stand-off, feeling bullish about his own occasional place kicking the Lions will take on Western Province with a range of options, even if they are of the untried variety.

Certainly Fran Cotton was at ease with his selection yesterday. "People tend to forget that Tim is a career kicker," the manager said. "Last season was the first in which he took a back seat to someone else in that department. At all other times he has been the No 1 man."

There was further significance in the switching of John Bentley from right to left wing. He is likely to face James Small and if Bentley can find it within himself to shade tomorrow's contest, he too will be looking at the bright lights come Test time at the same venue on 21 June.

Martin Johnson will, as expected, make his tour bow tomorrow and given the presence of a number of other obvious Test contenders - Ieuan Evans, Jeremy Guscott, Rob Howley, Jason Leonard, Simon Shaw, Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill - the side he leads looks distinctly useful. It will have to be, for Western Province are certain to ask questions far more difficult than any poised by Eastern Province or Border.

There was a degree of relief for the Lions yesterday with the news that Scott Gibbs, injured in East London and flown straight to Cape Town for X-rays on his stricken left ankle, may play again in a week. "There is no break and the ligament damaged is limited," Cotton said. "Seven days seems realistic, so there is no question of us calling in a replacement."

The management have worries in other areas. While Rob Wainwright, who led the side against Border, declined to discuss the performance on the referee, Andre Burger, Cotton was perfectly prepared to proffer a point of view. "The quality of refereeing was not of the standard we want to see on this tour," he asserted.

Not for the first time law interpretation is the subject of urgent concern amongst the Lions' hierarchy and no one expects the issue to go away.

On a brighter note, Wainwright underlined the unity of purpose amongst the Lions by reacting honestly but positively to the disappointments and frustrations of East London. "I'd like to think it will prove a turning point for us because it was a match we managed to win despite the low quality of performance" he said.

"I was very disappointed at our inability to rise above the conditions and impose some control on what went on but you take something from every game and now that virtually all of us have seen some action, we are more aware of the job waiting to be done."

Western Province will also be aware of a few things though. Strong as the Lions look on paper, they know they face a mighty test tomorrow.

Lions (v Western Province, Cape Town, tomorrow): T Stimpson (Newcastle and England); I Evans (Llanelli and Wales), A Tait (Newcastle and Scotland), J Guscott (Bath and England), J Bentley (Newcastle and England); G Townsend (Northampton and Scotland), R Howley (Cardiff and Wales); G Rowntree (Leicester and England), B Williams (Richmond and Wales), J Leonard (Harlequins and England), M Johnson (Leicester and England, capt), S Shaw (Bristol and England), L Dallaglio (Wasps and England), T Rodber (Northampton and England), R Hill (Saracens and England). Replacements: N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales), W Greenwood (Leicester), M Dawson (Northampton and England), M Regan (Bristol and England), P Wallace (Saracens and Ireland), S Quinnell (Richmond and Wales).