Jones' strong-arm start embodies Lions' will to win

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The Independent Online

Six days out from the first of the British and Irish Lions' three Tests against the All Blacks, the temperature is rising by the hour and the language is getting fruitier by the second. Just as Marty Holah, the brilliant Maori flanker, was going into print to accuse the tourists of being "a pain in the arse" around the tackle area, another loose forward of note, the Otago blind-side specialist Craig Newby, politely informed the New Zealand public that Sir Clive Woodward's charges were guilty of "cheating like buggery". Do we sense a theme developing here?

Six days out from the first of the British and Irish Lions' three Tests against the All Blacks, the temperature is rising by the hour and the language is getting fruitier by the second. Just as Marty Holah, the brilliant Maori flanker, was going into print to accuse the tourists of being "a pain in the arse" around the tackle area, another loose forward of note, the Otago blind-side specialist Craig Newby, politely informed the New Zealand public that Sir Clive Woodward's charges were guilty of "cheating like buggery". Do we sense a theme developing here?

The fact that the Lions forwards knocked Newby and the rest of the Otago pack flat on their backsides here in Dunedin on Saturday almost certainly has something to do with this upsurge in profanity, for the sight of any New Zealand scrum being shunted back at the rate of knots witnessed here would be enough to make the Archbishop of Auckland swear an oath under his breath. They do not like it up 'em, as Corporal Jones would almost certainly have said had he been on the trip. They do not like it at all.

What really disturbed the locals was the sight, more than two-thirds into this game, of three of the more substantial Lions tourists congregating on the touch-line and preparing to apply a coup de grâce of the most muscular variety imaginable.

Andy Sheridan, Steve Thompson and Danny Grewcock represent big units in any form of measurement you care to apply, and when they took the field with 15 minutes or so left on the clock, they punched their weight and then some. When Grewcock left his calling card on the prone frame of a powerful Pacific Islander by the name of Filipo Levi in the dying moments, the whole of New Zealand flinched simultaneously.

And the point? The point is a simple one. If Woodward gets his selection right for this weekend's set-to in Christchurch - the selection on the bench as well as on the field - he will have an even-money shot at winning the Test and ensuring that, whatever happens in the interim, the Lions will still be a going concern when the circus pitches up at at Eden Park on 9 July. The All Blacks will be useful on the substitution front, but not as useful as their opponents. As rugby is a 22-man game these days, the visitors appear to have something going for them.

In this, the fifth fixture of their 11-match itinerary, they certainly had Ryan Jones going for them. With Matt Stevens and the marvellous Graham Rowntree doing the business in the front row, the 24-year-old Welshman was given free rein to impose his pace, aggression and physicality on an Otago team who had rather fancied performing that role themselves. Jones might easily have high-tackled his way into the sin bin when he caught the accomplished Nick Evans around the throat during the first half, but that minor misdemeanour paled into insignificance after the break when he scored one try and lit the blue touchpaper for another.

It was quite something to behold, given that he had been summoned from a hotel room in Toronto less than a week previously following Woodward's decision to commit the injured Simon Taylor to the past tense.

But for Michael Owen's resolution to take a mid-tour break for paternity reasons, Jones would almost certainly have been surplus to requirements for this game. In the event, he started it. What was more, he squeezed every last droplet of advantage from his stroke of good fortune.

Afterwards, he emerged blinking into the flashes of a hundred cameras with a wedge of pizza in his hand. "Don't tell on me, will you?" he pleaded. The youngster could have eaten three cow sandwiches and a bucket of fries and still remained onside with an appreciative coaching staff. "Good on him, he had a fantastic game," Woodward beamed. "And no, I can't explain why he wasn't in the squad in the first place."

Jones was past caring about that little issue. "I can hardly say I was disappointed not to be picked, on the basis that I didn't win my first cap for Wales until last November," he pointed out, quite reasonably.

"When I was flying over here, I thought to myself: 'I'm going to New Zealand to play with people I grew up watching, admiring, almost fearing'. Then, when I started training, I realised they were normal guys who would go out of their way to help me. All I wanted was a place in the squad for a Lions game. Any game. Only then, when I'd shed some blood and sweat for the cause, would I feel I'd given something to the tour rather than taken things from it - new kit, a nice hotel room and all the rest. Now it's happened, I really couldn't be happier."

As expected, Otago were dangerous throughout the opening half, but had the stuffing knocked out of them by an inspirational contribution from Charlie Hodgson just before the interval. The outside-half shaped to punt a penalty to the left corner, but swivelled around to kick diagonally for the lurking Will Greenwood way out on the right. Glen Horton and Matt Saunders made a botch of the safety work, Greenwood sneaked in for the score and after a brief but meaningful flare-up between the combatants, the Lions headed for the dressing-room on level terms at 13-apiece.

From there, it was one-way traffic. Jones scored his try off the back of some strong-armed scrummaging midway through the third quarter, then tapped a penalty to himself to launch a move finished by his countryman, Shane Williams, eight minutes from the end of normal time. In the interim, the Lions pack ground out territory like an unusually powerful piece of farm machinery. Otago huffed and puffed, but there was no way back.

What did the New Zealanders think of the tourists' strategy? They thought it boring, old-fashioned, one-dimensional and as mouthwatering as a vegan diet. What do the Lions think about what other people think? They don't give a damn, and quite rightly so.

Otago: G Horton; H Pedersen, N Brew, S Mapusua, M Saunders; N Evans, D Lee; C Hoeft, J Macdonald, C Dunlea, F Levi, T Donnelly, C Newby (capt), J Blackie, G Webb. Replacements: J Shoemark for Brew, 49; J Aldworth for Dunlea, 55; J Vercoe for Macdonald, 65; C Smylie for Lee, 82; A Soakai for Blackie, 86.

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: G Murphy (Leicester and Ireland); D Hickie (Leinster and Ireland), G D'Arcy (Leinster and Ireland), W Greenwood (Harlequins and England), S Williams (Ospreys and Wales); C Hodgson (Sale and England), C Cusiter (Borders and Scotland); G Rowntree (Leicester and England), G Bulloch (Glasgow and Scotland, capt), M Stevens (Bath and England), S Shaw (Wasps and England), D O'Callaghan (Munster and Ireland), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets and Ireland), M Williams (Cardiff Blues and Wales), R Jones (Ospreys and Wales). Replacements: O Smith (Leicester and England) for D'Arcy, 55; M Dawson (Wasps and England) for Cusiter, 65; A Sheridan (Sale and England) for Rowntree, 65; S Thompson (Northampton and England) for Bulloch, 65; D Grewcock (Bath and England) for Shaw, 65; R O'Gara (Munster and Ireland) for Hodgson, 74; M Owen (Newport-Gwent Dragons and Wales) for Jones, 84.

Referee: L Bray (New Zealand).

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