'Orcs' face baptism of fire in the Plenty pit

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The Independent Online

Bay of Plenty teams are renowned for playing rugby with a whiff of gunpowder in the nostrils - to be fair, everyone gets a whiff of something when they hang around in sulphurous Rotorua - and yesterday, their aggressive captain Wayne Ormond duly threw down the gauntlet to the British and Irish Lions ahead of Saturday's set-to at a stadium known as the "Hangi Pit". Ormond is spoken of in these parts as a modern-day equivalent of another Rotorua hard-nut by the name of Buck Shelford, and he sounded every bit as abrasive as the ferocious All Blacks captain of the late 1980s as he contemplated the possible excesses of this weekend's entertainment.

Bay of Plenty teams are renowned for playing rugby with a whiff of gunpowder in the nostrils - to be fair, everyone gets a whiff of something when they hang around in sulphurous Rotorua - and yesterday, their aggressive captain Wayne Ormond duly threw down the gauntlet to the British and Irish Lions ahead of Saturday's set-to at a stadium known as the "Hangi Pit". Ormond is spoken of in these parts as a modern-day equivalent of another Rotorua hard-nut by the name of Buck Shelford, and he sounded every bit as abrasive as the ferocious All Blacks captain of the late 1980s as he contemplated the possible excesses of this weekend's entertainment.

"We've been waiting for this game for a long time," said the Super 12 flanker, who, to judge by the frequency with which the words are used in his association, might have been saddled with "fierce" and "uncompromising" as his middle names. "It's going to be a big contest for us in the forwards and we can't afford to take a backward step, because they'll run away with it if we do. If any stuff we don't like comes into the game, we'll dish it out back to them."

The Lions usually receive a shot across the bows when they sail into these parts - when they last played Bay of Plenty in 1983, their comprehensive 34-16 victory received significantly less publicity than a mass dust-up of the "never mind the ball, get on with the game" variety. So it was good to hear Sir Clive Woodward, the tourists' head coach, nail his colours to the mast after a heavy-duty training run at the Takapuna club on Auckland's North Shore.

Asked whether he would be happy to subdue the silver-ferned community by "winning ugly", just as his England side did when they beat the All Blacks in Wellington two years ago, he replied: "After that match, we were described by the locals as 'white orcs on steroids'. I took it as a huge compliment. The important thing is to come off the pitch with more points, because in sport, it's the winners who are remembered.

"The players are the same. We're here to win the Test series, but we're also here to win the provincial games, because if we do that we'll generate the momentum we need."

Woodward again defended his policy of naming a 45-man squad for the 11-match tour, 43 of whom are now in New Zealand. (Of the exceptions, Jason Robinson has confirmed he will fly out next Tuesday. There is still no definite word on Gareth Thomas, the Welsh back currently playing club rugby in France). The coach repeatedly described his decision as "common sense".

"I wish we had 60 or 70 players here," he said, apparently in all seriousness. "It's a change of mindset, but some people don't like the word change. A Lions visit to New Zealand is the last of the great tours rugby has to offer, and we should do everything to maximise the benefits for all four home countries. Even if a player doesn't get on the field, he experiences the intensity of rugby in this country and goes home better for the experience. I passionately believe every player here will learn from what happens on this trip."

Woodward also insisted that he and his back-room colleagues were justified in their gung-ho approach to security that has bewildered and annoyed certain sections of the New Zealand public. "It's common sense isn't it?" he said. "We have a small security team and they are responsible for making sure we get around safely and on schedule. Most modern professional sports teams have this support." As for the police presence at the Takapuna club, he added: "Policing decisions are entirely a matter for the local force, but it's good to see them there."

While the Lions are not exactly awash with information regarding their first opponents, they at least know who will feature in Bay of Plenty's starting line-up. Vern Cotter has picked a former All Black in Adrian Cashmore at full-back, plus three of New Zealand's most talked-about young forwards in the lock Bernie Upton, open-side flanker Nili Latu and the No 8 Colin Bourke. Ten of the team who start on Saturday have played Super 12 rugby this term, nine of them with the Waikato Chiefs.

l London Irish have confirmed that head coach Gary Gold has been released from his contract to join South African side Western Province.

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