Corry to take command of second-string side against Taranaki

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If the Lions were just about satisfied with their 14-point victory in Rotorua at the weekend, their performance did not seduce New Zealand's hard-bitten rugby public.

If the Lions were just about satisfied with their 14-point victory in Rotorua at the weekend, their performance did not seduce New Zealand's hard-bitten rugby public.

"Tame Lions are all talk," declared one newspaper headline following events in the Bay of Plenty, and there was a distinct whiff of blood in local nostrils when the tourists named their starting line-up for Wednesday's match with Taranaki in New Plymouth. The Lions management would rather have stuck pins in their eyes than labelled this a "midweek side" but, in important positions, it is undeniably weaker than the one that took the field in the opening fixture.

"What we have at the moment are two Lions teams, not a Test side and a non-Test side," said Ian McGeechan, the most experienced back-roomer in the party and a man who understands the dangers of an early division between the haves and the have-nots. Even so, few expect more than a handful of this outfit to make a compelling case for selection against the All Blacks in Christchurch a fortnight on Saturday.

Martin Corry will stake a claim, of course. Having started against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium two weeks ago and played an hour of the game against Bay of Plenty as a replacement for Lawrence Dallaglio, he now has the honour of leading a Lions side in New Zealand. Corry plays on the blind-side flank of a pack boasting clout in the second and back rows, but in most other areas, the perception is of a second-string combination.

Corry has enjoyed quite a season and now that Dallaglio is unavailable, expectations have increased still further. The Leicester forward is a senior figure with a significant role to perform. In short, the Lions need him.

"Let's be honest about it," Corry said yesterday. "You cannot replace a character like Lawrence. He's been immense, it's been brilliant to have had him around and what happened to him against Bay of Plenty was incredibly unfortunate. But this is not the time to look over our shoulders and think about what might have been. It's about looking at the cards we've been dealt and getting on with it."

McGeechan suggested that those players yet to start a match would do so against the New Zealand Maori in Hamilton this weekend - a dubious pleasure if ever there was one. On that basis, Stephen Jones of Wales and Matt Dawson of England will form the half-back partnership, with Andrew Sheridan and Julian White propping Steve Thompson in a mountainous front row, and Simon Taylor of Scotland featuring somewhere among the loose forwards. It is not yet clear whether Simon Shaw of Wasps, who arrived in New Zealand on Saturday, will be considered for the most dangerous fixture outside the Tests with the All Blacks.

Graham Henry and his fellow All Black coaches named a 23-man squad for their warm-up Test with Fiji at the North Harbour stadium in Albany on Friday. No Maori contenders were considered, for the very good reason that the Rico Gears and Carl Haymans of this world will be mixing it with the Lions 24 hours later. The big names from the Super 12-winning Canterbury Crusaders are back in the mix, though, including the scrum-half Justin Marshall, whose relations with Henry have been somewhat strained of late.

Lions team v Taranaki (Wednesday): G Murphy (Irl); S Horgan (Irl), W Greenwood (Eng), O Smith (Eng), D Hickie (Irl); C Hodgson (Eng), C Cusiter (Sco); G Rowntree (Eng), A Titterrell (Eng), J Hayes (Irl), D O'Callaghan (Irl), D Grewcock (Eng), M Corry ( Eng, capt), L Moody (Eng), M Owen (Wal). Replacements: S Byrne (Irl), G Jenkins (Wal), B Kay (Eng), M Williams (Wal), G Cooper (Wal), J Wilkinson (Eng), G Henson (Wal).

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