Peter Bills: Bizarre Lions decisions are a worry

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The Independent Online

Another day, another bizarre Lions innovation...

From the crew who brought you scrum half Mike Phillips finishing the game with the Golden Lions on the wing, Irish wing Luke Fitzgerald starting the match against the Cheetahs at inside centre and defensive flanker Joe Worsley trying to be a No. 7 against the Cheetahs with predictably catastrophic results, the Lions management have now pulled another rabbit from their collective hat.



They have suddenly decided, midway through the South African tour, that a kicking coach would be a wheeze of an idea. An element of surprise was discernible in the announcement.



Tour manager Gerald Davies said, "We found out that Neil (Jenkins) is going to be in South Africa during the latter stages of the tour. Therefore, the coaching staff thought it would be a good idea to ask him to become involved with the squad as kicking coach when he was here. He is Wales' kicking coach and the former world record points holder."



Commenting on the inclusion of Jenkins into the tour management Head Coach Ian McGeechan said, "We did not appoint a kicking coach initially as Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards have experience in this area and have adequately taken responsibility for looking after the kickers. However, when someone of Neil's ability is available and on hand it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.”



I have further good news for the Lions. Their 1993 assistant coach, McGeechan's No. 2 in New Zealand Dick Best, is about to arrive in South Africa. Wouldn't it make sense to use his direct, no-nonsense approach? And 1974 Lions legend Willie John McBride is another about to arrive.



Surely his knowledge of how to win there could be invoked. There is a rumour, too, that 1955 star Tony O'Reilly might be in South Africa to watch at least one of the Tests. Given his fantastic try scoring record, couldn't he pass on some valuable tips to the present squad?



The trouble with all this is that it smacks increasingly of desperation. If the Lions really needed Jenkins why wasn't he appointed in the first place? Either they need him or they don't. This haphazard approach (especially with the First Test now barely 10 days away) suggests the squad and back-up management is still sorting itself out. If so, the Lions are in even more trouble than some of us suspect.



These are not the first strange appointments (or non-appointments) to this touring squad. England's excellent forward Tom Croft, who I think should win a place in the team for the 1st Test) wouldn't even have been on this tour but for the ‘making contact with the eye area' antics of Munster forward Alan Quinlan in the Heineken Cup semi-final. His subsequent suspension ruled him out of the trip and only then was Croft called up.



That was absurd – whoever else was chosen, Croft should have been one of the first names on the list, given his form for Leicester and England this year. His performance at Johannesburg last week just echoed such sentiments. How could the Lions selectors have not put him in a bloated squad of 37 right from the start ?



The Lions were unlucky to lose Tomas O'Leary and Jerry Flannery. But surely representations should have been made to Cardiff to give Tom Shanklin some time off once he had played in Cardiff's Heineken Cup semi-final. Instead, three days later, he played in a Magners League match – two games in 72 hours just before a Lions tour...madness – and wrecked his shoulder. His tour was over before it had started.



Already, too, question marks are entirely justified about some of the other selections the management made. Andy Powell, for all his physical courage and commitment, simply doesn't have the quality required at this level. Even though Ryan Jones had lost form during the season, he was surely a better bet for a Lions tour than his Welsh back row colleague.



And then there is the captaincy. I continue to insist the natural and logical choice should have been Brian O'Driscoll. Paul O'Connell, as in 2005 in New Zealand, is yet to show anything resembling his best form in a Lions jersey. The captaincy can only be a further burden with which the Irish lock need not have been saddled.



If you lead your country to a Grand Slam, you are entitled to win the Lions captaincy. In my book, it was absurd to overlook O'Driscoll allegedly because, as in 1997 with Martin Johnson, Ian McGeechan wanted a huge forward to stand alongside the Springbok captain. But does anyone seriously believe John Smit will quake in his boots because O'Connell is a few inches taller? The South African has led his country to a World Cup win – who is going to frighten him? O'Driscoll's genius might.



O'Driscoll is a hugely inspirational figure, as he has already reminded us on this tour, just by the way he plays. His class is unquestionable, his commitment likewise. What more do you need from a captain?



A lot of things just haven't looked right on this Lions tour. And with the Test series so close that has to be a cause for huge concern.

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