Lions at bay after Dallaglio disaster

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The Independent Online

It was Matt Te Pou, the coach of the New Zealand Maori, who jocularly claimed to understand the logic behind Sir Clive Woodward's much-ridiculed decision to pick a 45-strong squad for this tour, on the basis that Bay of Plenty, rightly renowned for their take-no-prisoners approach to life, were eminently capable of reducing the party by 15 per cent in the space of a few rucks. The Lions escaped with only a single casualty as it turned out, but it was an escape to nowhere. Pyrrhic is not the word.

It was Matt Te Pou, the coach of the New Zealand Maori, who jocularly claimed to understand the logic behind Sir Clive Woodward's much-ridiculed decision to pick a 45-strong squad for this tour, on the basis that Bay of Plenty, rightly renowned for their take-no-prisoners approach to life, were eminently capable of reducing the party by 15 per cent in the space of a few rucks. The Lions escaped with only a single casualty as it turned out, but it was an escape to nowhere. Pyrrhic is not the word.

Given the choice, Woodward might have settled for a fistful of injuries had he been guaranteed a free run for Lawrence Dallaglio. In the event, Dallaglio will not be running anywhere for a good six months. In attempting to support his captain, Brian O'Driscoll, in snuffing out a dangerous Bay of Plenty attack early in the second quarter of this enthralling opening fixture, he slipped on the damp turf and collapsed in considerable agony as his right ankle twisted, wrenched itself free of the surrounding bones and ligaments and ended up fractured, dislocated and bent at an angle previously unknown to geometry. He spent the night in hospital here before undergoing surgery in Auckland and will spend the next fortnight in plaster.

"We have to move on," Woodward maintained yesterday. Agreed. But to what? No one watching the 20 minutes of rugby following the Londoner's departure on a stretcher could have been left in any doubt as to his importance to this Lions party, for in his absence a forward pack crammed with experienced leaders - Gordon Bulloch is the current captain of Scotland; Richard Hill, Martin Corry, Paul O'Connell and Martyn Williams have all led their countries - disappeared off the face of the earth. Dallaglio had emerged as a major influence on this party long before Ronan O'Gara first put boot to ball on Saturday. Now, there is a vacuum.

"Lawrence had been looking forward to this so much," Woodward said. "We'd been speaking together about the tour for more than a year, and I'd never seen him in better shape, either physically or mentally. I'm absolutely gutted for him."

Simon Shaw, a long-standing partner of Dallaglio's at Wasps and living proof that it is possible to recover from this sort of injury and thrive - Shaw suffered something similar while playing for Bristol against Transvaal in 1995 - was equally distraught. "I saw the incident on television," he said, having arrived in New Zealand as a replacement for the injured Irish lock Malcolm O'Kelly. "My sympathy goes out to the guy. He's a big loss."

Dallaglio, who described himself as being in a "philosophical" frame of mind, had been nothing short of magnificent during his brief sojourn on the field. He handled twice, both times extremely meaningfully, in the build-up to Josh Lewsey's blinding try in the opening seconds and was largely responsible for inspiring the assault that led to Mark Cueto's score in the opposite corner a few minutes later. In between times, Lewsey had eluded the not inconsiderable clutches of Filimone Bolavucu to finish brilliantly in the left corner. The Lions were 17 points up inside 12 minutes and with Dallaglio in his pomp, there appeared to be plenty more on the way.

But life AD (After Dallaglio) was very different to life BC (Before Catastrophe). Woodward suggested afterwards that his players were at least partially traumatised by the circumstances and extent of their colleague's injury, but for all the legitimacy of that excuse, the sight of O'Gara missing midfield tackles by the gross, of the line-out going haywire and of the front row struggling for supremacy against a Bay of Plenty trio not renowned for the potency of their scrummaging must have made him squirm. During a one-way second quarter, the likes of Kevin Senio, Nili Latu and the splendidly spherical Aleki Lutui looked like world-beaters.

So too did young Murray Williams, the New Zealand Under-21 outside-half but very much a new face to the Bay of Plenty aficionados. Williams kicked his goals, which was a whole lot more than O'Gara managed, and added to Colin Bourke's try with one of his own shortly before the interval, levelling the scores in the process. Very much in the mix, the home side started the second half with a hiss and roar, but contrived to butcher a clear chance down the right.

The Lions responded with a decent try from Tom Shanklin after O'Driscoll, too quiet by a distance until now, slipped away from Grant McQuoid to present the Welshman with his chance.

From there on in, the Lions controlled proceedings - not least O'Gara who, much to his credit, rose above the trials and tribulations of the first period to deflate Bay of Plenty with some tactical kicking of the highest quality.

There was more than a whiff of conservatism about the tourists; indeed, Woodward substituted the excellent Gavin Henson late on because he felt his side, only seven points to the good with eight minutes left, might benefit from a mutually familiar all-Irish midfield as the clock ticked down.

Gordon D'Arcy, who replaced Henson, duly claimed one of two tries at the death, thanks to another startling piece of attacking running from Lewsey. The other went to the sharp-witted Dwayne Peel, who delivered a handy performance at scrum-half.

But the most striking contribution at this stage was made by Andrew Sheridan, the freakishly strong loose-head prop from Sale. His scrummaging, brutally effective rather than technically accomplished, brought a belated smile to the faces of Woodward and his phalanx of coaches, none of whom had remotely enjoyed the previous 50 minutes or so.

"If Sheridan carries on like that, he'll have a huge impact," predicted Andy Robinson, who had prepared the forwards for this game. Sheridan may well have a major impact, but huge? Probably not. Only Dallaglio could have managed something on that scale, and he is history.

Bay of Plenty: Tries Bourke, Williams; Conversions Williams 2; Penalties Williams 2. Lions: Tries Lewsey 2, Cueto, Shanklin, Peel, D'Arcy. Conversions O'Gara 2.

BAY OF PLENTY: A Cashmore; F Bolavucu, A Bunting, G McQuoid, A Tahana; M Williams, K Senio; S Davison, A Lutui, B Castle, M Sorenson, B Upton, W Ormond (capt), N Latu, C Bourke. Replacements: W Smith for Bourke, 44; A Stewart for Bolavucu, 50; T Filise for Davison, 62; P Tupai for Sorenson, 62; J Pareanga for Lutui, 73.

LIONS: J Lewsey (Wasps and England); M Cueto (Sale and England), B O'Driscoll (Leinster and Ireland, capt), G Henson (Ospreys and Wales), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues and Wales); R O'Gara (Munster and Ireland), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets and Wales); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues and Wales), G Bulloch (Glasgow and Scotland), M Stevens (Bath and England), P O'Connell (Munster and Ireland), B Kay (Leicester and England), R Hill (Saracens and England), M Williams (Cardiff Blues and Wales), L Dallaglio (Wasps and England). Replacements: M Corry (Leicester and England) for Dallaglio, 25; A Sheridan (Sale and England) for Stevens, 65; S Thompson (Northampton and England) for Bulloch, 65; G D'Arcy (Leinster and Ireland) for Henson, 70; M Dawson (Wasps and England) for Shanklin, 76.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

l Wales beat the USA 77-3 in Hartford, Connecticut, on Saturday. Craig Morgan, Nicky Robinson, Kevin Morgan, Jonathan Thomas and Rhys Williams set up a 42-3 half-time lead. Colin Charvis, twice, and Mike Phillips crossed the line before Tal Selley and Richie Pugh scored late tries.

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