The Lions have succeeded in annoying just about the whole of Australia over the last month, which tends to happen when a team from the "old country" materialise on the island continent and promptly humiliate the pride and joy of the most successful sporting nation on earth. It is now clear that unless the tourists name a side for Saturday's second Test in Melbourne by early evening local time today, they will annoy the International Rugby Board too.
A spokesman for the sport's governing body confirmed yesterday that, under Test match regulations, teams must reveal their starting line-ups no later than 48 hours before kick-off. At the moment, the Lions have no intention of doing anything of the sort. Donal Lenihan, the tour manager, plans to declare his hand on Friday, once the medical team has made a final decision on the Bath full-back Matt Perry, who tore fibres in his abductor muscle during last weekend's comprehensive victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane.
British sides have been in this situation before. Indeed, the 48-hour rule was introduced as a result of Clive Woodward's antics during England's southern hemisphere trek three years ago – a venture so riddled with problems that it became known as the "tour from hell". Having announced his side for the first match with Australia before the squad had left Heathrow, the red rose coach then worked his way under a few All Black skins by keeping his line-up under wraps until the mornings of the Tests in Dunedin and Auckland.
Lenihan rejected suggestions that the Lions hierarchy were playing mind games. "It's an injury issue, pure and simple," he said. "We don't want to name a side now and then announce two or three changes on Friday. Our medical staff are confident that players like Perry and Austin Healey will be right for Melbourne, but we want to make sure." All the same, the IRB will consider taking action unless the Lions fall into line.
Lenihan named a 27-man squad featuring most of those equipped with a full complement of serviceable limbs. Will Greenwood, Scott Murray and David Young were not considered. Only Greenwood, a certainty for a Test place before damaging ankle ligaments against New South Wales in Sydney 12 days ago, would have challenged the current incumbents, and had there been a midweek match next Tuesday, he might have played. As things stand, he will be denied a Test cap for the second successive tour.
According to Graham Henry, the chief coach, the call between Perry and Iain Balshaw at full-back is a tight one. If Perry recovers – and that is far from certain, given that he took no part in yesterday's training run – it should not be as tight as all that. While Balshaw remains a poor impersonation of the player who ripped up defences for a pastime during the Six Nations, Perry is ultra-reliable, if nowhere near as electrifying.
Healey, perhaps the most important member of the Lions bench, suffered a hip injury scoring his match-winning try against the ACT Brumbies on Tuesday. He was hit by the flying knees of Peter Ryan, the aggressive Brumby back-rower, as he touched down, and was on crutches after the game. However, Lenihan will not push for Ryan to be cited. "I've studied the incident on video from a number of angles, and I think the player was probably committed to the tackle," he said.
With Martyn Williams, the Welsh flanker, and Dorian West, the Leicester hooker, also in need of repairs following their efforts at the Bruce Stadium, the Lions medics are working at optimum pitch. Indeed, Richard Wegrzyk, the masseur, has performed so many sessions that he is now receiving treatment on his hands from the team doctor. There are tours, hard tours, and tours where even the back-room staff start falling to pieces.
The Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen has made three changes following the 29-13 towelling at The Gabba. Michael Foley replaces the injured Jeremy Paul at hooker while Matthew Burke takes over at full-back from Chris Latham.
The third change, which sees the New South Wales tight-head prop Rod Moore replacing Glenn Panoho, is of some concern to the Lions. "We're going to have to do our homework on him," confirmed Henry, who is suspicious of Moore's scrummaging technique and considers him one of the more irritating Australians encountered thus far
The match will be played under a closed roof at the Colonial Stadium. Australian Rugby Union officials have refused to open the roof despite Lions concerns that the move could also be seen as an attempt to generate more atmosphere in the stadium, negating the effect of the support of up to 15,000 Lions fans – who have also been barred from buying any of the 10,000 extra tickets for the third Test which went on sale last night to Australian residents only.
LIONS SQUAD (Second Test v Australia, Melbourne, Saturday): Backs: I Balshaw (England), M Perry (England), D James (Wales), J Robinson (England), B Cohen (England), B O'Driscoll (Ireland), R Henderson (Ireland), A Healey (England), J Wilkinson (England), N Jenkins (Wales), R Howley (Wales), M Dawson (England). Forwards: T Smith (Scotland), P Vickery (England), J Leonard (England), D Morris (Wales), K Wood (Ireland), G Bulloch (Scotland), D West (England), M Johnson (England, capt), D Grewcock (England), M Corry (England), R Hill (England), N Back (England), S Quinnell (Wales), M Williams (Wales), D Wallace (Ireland).Reuse content