Maori face full weight of Woodward's frontal attack

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The Independent Online

It is 28 years since one of the outstanding front rows in Lions annals - Peter Wheeler, Graham Price and the mighty prop with the Desperate Dan chin, Fran Cotton - humiliated the All Black pack into scrummaging with three forwards rather than the traditional eight, having established an unprecedented degree of superiority in the bump-and-grind department.

Tomorrow, when the current Lions take on the New Zealand Maori in Hamilton in what has long been labelled the "fourth Test", they will attempt to inflict the same kind of damage on their hosts' morale.

Andrew Sheridan, Steve Thompson, Julian White ... it is a front row built on an epic scale. With Simon Shaw, the outsized Englishman making his first appearance of the tour after being whistled up to replace the injured Malcolm O'Kelly, locking the scrum alongside the formidable Paul O'Connell, the Maori will need to shed every last bead of sweat just to gain parity. Indeed, a number of good local judges expect the Lions to smash the opposition pack to smithereens.

Sir Clive Woodward, more than happy with the second-half performance against Taranaki on Wednesday, revealed his hand yesterdayselecting all the players yet to start a game since gathering in Wales the best part of a month ago, with the exceptions of the suspended Neil Back and the recently summoned Simon Easterby.

Simon Taylor, about as visible as Lord Lucan on his two Lions trips to date, will finally make an appearance in the run-on team at No 8. His chances of filling the gap left by Lawrence Dallaglio depend almost wholly on his performance against a distinctly useful Maori back row - with Jono Gibbes and Marty Holah on the flanks, the word "handful" springs to mind - but he is sufficiently talented to grasp this opportunity.

Woodward has clearly decided that Tom Shanklin, a major success at outside centre for Wales in their recent Grand Slam campaign, is more likely to challenge as a wing. Having started on the left against Bay of Plenty and scored an important try, the Cardiff Blue shifts to the right for the Maori match, where he will find himself up against the experienced Caleb Ralph.

The wing roles are very much up for grabs. Shane Horgan has been winning mixed reviews; his try-scoring contribution against Taranaki had its impressive aspects, but it was undermined by the kind of public fumbles that would, if repeated against the likes of Doug Howlett and Mils Muliaina on Test day, prove costly in the extreme. He will start on the bench against the Maori.

Shane Williams, the very opposite of Horgan in both size and approach, has a starting place - quite possibly his last in a serious match, unless he finds some defensive muscle to go with his quicksilver footwork. His more substantial countryman, Gareth Thomas, and the celebrated Jason Robinson are now in the country and have been pencilled in for Wednesday's match with Wellington, so the pressure on Williams will be huge, not least because the new sensation of New Zealand rugby, Rico Gear, will be staring down the gun barrels at him.

Gear, one of the star turns in the Canterbury Crusaders' recent Super 12 triumph, is one of the prime Maori contenders for the New Zealand Test team. Another is Carl Hayman, the tight-head prop from Otago. It will be surprising indeed if these two are not included in the Graham Henry's squad for the three-match series.

Today, the All Blacks play their only warm-up match against Fiji at the North Harbour Stadium in Albany. There are new caps in the hooker Derren Witcombe, the lock James Ryan and another sensational wing in Sitiveni Sivivatu, who will be playing against his countrymen. Two more debutants feature among the replacements: the prop Campbell Johnstone and the wing Sosene Anesi.

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS (v NZ Maori, Hamilton, tomorrow): J Lewsey (Wasps and England); T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues and Wales), B O'Driscoll (Leinster and Ireland, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster and Ireland), S Williams (Ospreys and Wales); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne and Wales), M Dawson (Wasps and England); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks and England), S Thompson (Northampton and England), J White (Leicester and England), S Shaw (Wasps and England), P O'Connell (Munster and Ireland), R Hill (Saracens and England), M Williams (Cardiff Blues and Wales), S Taylor (Edinburgh and Scotland). Replacements: S Byrne (Leinster and Ireland), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues and Wales), B Kay (Leicester and England), M Owen (Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets and Wales), R O'Gara (Munster and Ireland), S Horgan (Leinster and Ireland).

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