Security row leaves 'paranoid' Lions on defensive

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The Independent Online

Just because they are all out to get them - "all" being the whole of New Zealand, every man, woman and child - it should not automatically force the British and Irish Lions into the throes of rampant paranoia. That is where they are currently to be found, though, and their hosts do not like it one little bit, not least an Aucklander by the name of Susan Slater. The Lions expected Tana Umaga and Richie McCaw to get stuck into them, but Susan Slater?

She is not a woman to be taken lightly, that's for sure. A representative of a local pressure group which deals with law and order issues in New Zealand's biggest city, Slater fairly ripped into the tourists over their decision to post police officers around their training ground at Takapuna Rugby Club, situated on the North Shore, a few miles from the team hotel.

"If we had an abundance of police resources, I wouldn't worry about it," she said yesterday. "But with all the mayhem going on in our city, why should the taxpayer support the rugby union, who should be able to pay for the security they need? The Lions have more chance of being murdered on the street than on the field at a training run. They're not royalty, for goodness sake."

Indeed, they are not royalty. The royalty will be popping along later in the tour in the shape of Prince William, who has been invited by Sir Clive Woodward to spend a few days with the players on account of his "stature", whatever that may mean in the context of this supremely challenging sporting adventure. Yet whenever Jonny Wilkinson appears in public, as he did at the memorable Maori welcome in Rotorua on Sunday, he is accompanied by security guards, and the Lions openly admit that they are taking regular advice on "the logistics of getting in and out of places". Charming.

What is more, they have erected fencing around the pitch at Takapuna in an effort to stop prying eyes, and have even blanked out the windows in the clubhouse, just in case some silver-ferned tactician with a pair of binoculars and a false moustache should find his way into the bar. While the Lions were training on Sunday morning, a dozen police officers were on hand to prevent groups of enthusiastic youngsters taking a peek at the line-out drills. The tourists already have Alastair Campbell on board. Who next? George Smiley?

As per usual, Woodward is being exceptionally cagey on the subject of his players' fitness. The Lions support staff have been less than forthcoming on the hamstring injury currently troubling the gifted Scottish loose forward Simon Taylor, who was not considered for this weekend's opening match with Bay of Plenty despite assurances to the contrary, and there has been no word on Matt Dawson's absence from training, even though the experienced scrum-half is in the 22-man party for the forthcoming game with last season's Ranfurly Shield holders.

By contrast, a good deal of solid news is emanating from the New Zealand camp. Umaga, the Wellington centre who has already been confirmed as captain for the three-Test series, is suffering from a flu-type virus and will not be involved in this Friday's All Black trial in Napier. Anton Oliver, the teak-tough hooker from Otago, is also missing, not just from the trial but also from his province's squad for the meeting with the Lions in Dunedin a week before the opening international. He may well miss the whole shooting match, thanks to the torn calf muscle he suffered during a Super 12 match with the Canterbury Crusaders earlier this month.

This would be a significant blow for the hosts. They are not without options - Keven Mealamu of Auckland, Corey Flynn of Canterbury and Andrew Hore of Taranaki are nobody's fools - but Oliver, a former All Black captain, is widely credited with hardening up a tight-forward unit considered by many to have been a major weakness in recent years.

The Leicester flanker Neil Back has identified the midweek match with Wellington a fortnight tomorrow as his single shot at Test preferment. Suspended for a month by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal after clouting the Wasps forward Joe Worsley during the Premiership final at Twickenham, he cannot play in any of the first three games. As the fifth game, against Otago, will almost certainly be a run-out for the élite side, he is likely to have one chance, and one chance only.