Back in the days when men were men and southern hemisphere forwards considered it more important to break a few opposition noses than to break into a sprint, the Australians were at the forefront of the "go the biff" theory of rugby. Suddenly, the Wallabies are holier than a pew full of cardinals. Eddie Jones, heir apparent to Rod Macqueen as national coach and the strategist behind the distinctly useful Australia A side who take on the Lions in Gosford tomorrow, prompted the first diplomatic spat of the tour yesterday by accusing the visitors of rough-house tactics during the win over Queensland in Brisbane at the weekend.
"There were a number of off-the-ball incidents against Queensland that were disappointing," said Jones, a smart cookie who guided the ACT Brumbies to a first Super 12 title last month. "I hope the officials at Gosford keep a strict eye on this and take the appropriate action." All of which left the Lions hierarchy comprehensively flabbergasted. True, there was some fun and games during the opening stages at Ballymore, but the more forthright members of the Queensland pack, notably the front-rowers Nick Stiles and Michael Foley, shared responsibility for the outbreaks of communal handbag-swinging.
Donal Lenihan, the Lions manager, has been here before, in all senses of the phrase. As midweek captain of the 1989 Lions, who came from behind to beat Australia by the odd Test in three, the Irishman played a full part in the success of a side branded by Bob Dwyer, then the Wallaby coach, as "the dirtiest to visit these shores". When confronted with Jones's allegations yesterday, Lenihan sighed and replied: "There seems to be a hangover from '89 and I wish people would realise that a huge amount has happened in the game since then. It is time to close the book and let it go. When you tour Australia and take on Queensland, traditionally the most physical of the state sides here, you expect to get sized up. But our intention was to play football from the start, and that will remain our intention throughout the trip."
Ironically enough, the Lions expect tomorrow's game to be the toughest outside the Tests. The Australian second-string have been together for a week rather longer than the Queenslanders managed, for one reason or another and their line-up features some highly competitive characters who fully intend to achieve Wallaby status before this tour is over. In light of which, the Lions have selected their most experienced pack, pairing Jason Leonard and David Young in the front row and running Lawrence Dallaglio alongside Scott Quinnell in the back row.
Dallaglio, happily recovered from the knee injury he suffered in a Zurich Championship semi-final tie a month and a half ago, could have turned out against Queensland if pushed. Tomorrow's match was always the preferred comeback fixture, however. Given that the first Test is a mere 12 days away, he is leaving his run very late indeed. But Graham Henry, the head coach, emphasised yesterday that Dallaglio had done everything expected of him on the training field. "Lawrence has probably trained harder than anyone else in the squad," he said.
Henry also named Mike Catt for a first tour appearance, although the influential Bath midfielder has shown little sign of recovering from the back and calf conditions that have reduced him to a fringe figure ever since the Lions gathered in Hampshire at the end of May. Catt was scheduled to face a fitness test in Manly today. If he fails to pass, it is safe to assume he will be on a Heathrow-bound plane by the end of the week.
Robbie McBryde, the Llanelli hooker, must also impress the medical staff before taking his place in the midweek team. One of five Welshmen named in tomorrow's starting line-up, McBryde suffered the frustration of damaging a quad muscle in the eighth minute of last Tuesday's comprehensive win over a Queensland President's XV in Townsville. If he does not make the cut, the Scotsman Gordon Bulloch will play in the middle of the front row.Reuse content