The British and Irish Lions scored three tries of contrasting excellence to beat Otago 30-19 at Carisbrook yesterday, thereby announcing themselves as a genuine threat to the All Blacks in the First Test in Christchurch next weekend.
No one should be in any doubt as to the significance of this victory, even though Otago were missing three of their first-choice pack. The home side had beaten British Isles touring sides in four of their last six meetings, stretching back to 1950.
Will Greenwood and Shane Williamsboth crossed the Otago line at the so-called House of Pain, but it was the second try, from Ryan Jones, that had this rugby-obsessed country sitting up and taking notice. Jones, a 24-year-old No 8 who plays for the Neath-Swansea Ospreys, had missed out on Sir Clive Woodward's original selection and was summoned only when Simon Taylor, of Scotland, was invalided out of the tour. The way he played on his Lions debut, he might have spent a lifetime in the famous red shirt.
"No, I can't explain," grinned Woodward, when asked why the man of the match had not been among his initial selections. "Clearly, he had a fantastic game. He was immense." He added: "The momentum is building. I can smell something special is happening with this group of people." Jones said: "All I wanted from this tour, which has been an unexpected bonus at the end of a wonderful first season of international rugby, was a place in the squad for one match.
Any match would have done. As it turned out, I was given a start here. Clive asked me to do a job and I received some very good advice as I prepared for the game. What was the advice? To have no regrets, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Jones will now be considered for a place in the 22-man squad to play the All Blacks.
Woodward is scheduled to name his side on Wednesday, but as he has no plans to field any Test contenders on Tuesday against Southland in Invercargill, he will make his important decisions at a meeting with his coaches tomorrow.