Tackle ban rules Hines out of Test
Lions forward suspended as McGeechan looks to pick tougher team this Saturday
Thursday 25 June 2009
Nathan Hines has established a reputation as the most combustible British and Irish Lions forward on this tour of South Africa: the northern hemisphere's answer to the Springbok enforcer Bakkies Botha, even though the Scotland lock was actually born in the southern hemisphere, down Wagga Wagga way. As of yesterday, he is also the least useful forward. Hines was suspended for a week after being found guilty of dangerous tackling during the drawn game with the Emerging Springboks on Tuesday night and will miss the must-win second Test in Pretoria.
Ian McGeechan, the head coach, had given no hint of whether he was considering promoting Hines to the elite side for Saturday's match at Loftus Versfeld, but events here yesterday rendered the topic irrelevant. Unless the Lions successfully appeal against the verdict, delivered by the judicial officer Alan Hudson after a hearing at the offices of the Western Province union yesterday lunchtime, the naturalised Australian will not be available until the third and final Test in Johannesburg in nine days.
He was reported by Stephen Hinds, the citing officer from New Zealand, who spotted him tipping up the Emerging Springboks second-row forward Wilhelm Steenkamp in the early exchanges of the contest at Newlands and letting him fall to the floor. It was hardly the worst transgression in the history of Lions touring and certainly did not qualify as a so-called "spear tackle", in which a victim is turned in the air and driven into the floor. However, the authorities have for some time been very hot on anything involving a player hitting the ground from a position "above the perpendicular".
Hines was represented by the Lions' travelling barrister, Richard Smith QC, with McGeechan and Gerald Davies, the manager, also present. Twelve years ago in this country, the tourists also lost a player to a one-week ban: Scott Gibbs, the Wales centre, who was suspended for punching during the defeat by Northern Transvaal. Gibbs went on to play a crucial role in the Test series, but with only one match now available to Hines, history is most unlikely to repeat itself.
Before McGeechan and his colleagues met yesterday to select their side for the Pretoria Test, the scrum coach Graham Rowntree repeated his view that there might be changes in all three rows of the scrum. For his part, the defence coach Shaun Edwards mentioned both Luke Fitzgerald, the Ireland wing, and Shane Williams of Wales as possible candidates for the left wing position currently held by Ugo Monye, who missed two clear-cut scoring opportunities in Durban five days ago.
After acknowledging that Monye's failures on the finishing front had been damaging – "No one is more disappointed than Ugo," he said – Edwards had positive things to say about both Fitzgerald, the marginal favourite for the wing berth, and Williams, whose struggles to rediscover the level of performance that earned him the "world player of the year" title late last year has been one of the themes of the tour.
"I've been very impressed with Shane," said the former rugby league international. "He's taken a lot of criticism for not maintaining the form he showed to win that award, but that form wasn't just good, it was unbelievable. It is unrealistic to expect anyone to keep that form going. We haven't seen the special Shane Williams, but what we have seen from him is a rock-solid performance."
Edwards revealed that the Lions, who have now spent almost three weeks at sea level, are training with altitude masks in preparation for their imminent return to altitude on the high veld. "I think the players will be in much better shape to deal with the conditions up there than when they first arrived in South Africa and played in Rustenburg," Edwards said. "At this moment, I think Loftus Versfeld is probably the hardest place in the world to play rugby. Anyone watching the Bulls win the Super 14 final there would probably agree.
"But I'll be gutted if the last week of this trip is not full of excitement and tension, so that means winning this Test and setting up a decider in Johannesburg."
Wounded Lions: Three who face the axe
Ugo Monye The Harlequins wing had two scoring opportunities in the Durban Test, one in each half, and failed to take either. The coaches believe missed opportunities cost the Lions victory.
Lee Mears The hooker is under pressure from Matthew Rees of Wales, who showed up well off the bench in Durban. Is a bigger man needed to scrummage against Bismarck du Plessis?
Phil Vickery Scrummaged off the field by Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira, the World Cup-winning prop looks certain to make way for Adam Jones who strengthened the Lions scrum in Durban.
...And one who should benefit The Welsh prop Adam Jones looks likely to start the second Test.
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