This is the week the Lions begin to trek southwards through New Zealand, and if they consult a map they will see a Wellington looming, passing a Palmerston on the way and, on the South Island to come, a Nelson and a Cromwell. The place names should be changed to protect the innocent, for the issue of leadership is threatening to weigh the tourists down with excess personal baggage.
The Lions' tails swished worryingly between their legs during the defeat by the Maori. When it comes to darkest hours - and they do not come much darker than an eventide mauling by a bunch of black-shirts - the British and Irish would ordinarily be relied upon to find a character to rally them and organise them. A Wellington, say, or a Nelson. Without the retired Martin Johnson and the injured Lawrence Dallaglio, the search for a stiff upper lip is already becoming frantic.
A good coach solves a problem before it arises, and yesterday Sir Clive Woodward's policy was to go for safety in numbers. The most significant figure was a 90-stone front five which seemed to confirm the pre-tour theory that the best way to beat the All Blacks is to beat them up. So what did these big bruisers do? Lose four line-outs on Steve Thompson's throw, knock on like novices when the ball came to Paul O'Connell and Simon Shaw in the open and gain no more than parity at a poorly refereed scrummage.
Then there was the singular contribution of the bench-pressing behemoth, Andrew Sheridan. The prop they nickname "Sherry" attempted to Bristol-cream Luke McAlister; it was the punch of a sucker, prompted by an elbow on the cheekbone from a Maori centre about half his size. Though Woodward complained beforehand about the New Zealand touch judges having too much of a say, Paul Honiss would have needed to have been suffering severe myopia britannica to miss this one.
Sheridan went to the sin-bin near the end of the first half and never came back. Woodward evaded the question, post-match, but it appeared obvious that Sherry's attempt at the sweet science had cost him dear. And evading questions can only go so far.
Ironically, Sheridan had earlier provided one of the few highlights for the Lions when he took it upon himself to run through the remains of a ruck. Otherwise - and apart from one break by Matt Dawson - there was a sense that the Lions were all ship and no rudder. Brian O'Driscoll's beautifully taken try was a welcome tick in the box marked talent, but there is only so much the Irishman can do from the midfield. He could not control his nearest and dearest, Gordon D'Arcy, who was lucky to stay on the field when he kicked a stray Maori and spear-tackled Rua Tipoki.
The team need nous, not isolated violence. It is difficult to fathom, thus far, how O'Connell was talked of as a potential skipper. Dallaglio is out of the equation, after breaking an ankle in Rotorua eight days ago. Dawson and Richard Hill, who both played yesterday, and Martin Corry and Neil Back - who did not - have all led England in the past. Back is the immediate future, for he will play in Wellington on Wednesday, but it will only be a few hours after he completes a ban for - guess what? - punching.
Sheridan was left mournfully nursing his pride and a small swelling under his eye, and while his fellow prop Julian White did well to walk away from trouble, he is more a lieutenant than a leader. Thompson, likewise, is a trusty No 2 if not always a trusted No 2. Hill must be allowed to get on with his peerless work around the fringes, and Dawson is behind Dwayne Peel at scrum-half.
Other candidates such as Ben Kay, Danny Grewcock and Michael Owen are uncon-vincing, and Jonny Wilkinson has got enough to worry about. It all leaves Corry looking ever more the Johnson-in-waiting: a huge responsibility for the Leicester back-rower who - wait for it - was suspended not long ago for flinging a retaliatory elbow in Hill's face in a club match.
To adapt the old joke about Western Samoa, if the Maori make up 15 per cent of the population of New Zealand, just think how good the whole of the country must be. If swallowing that thought is not to give the Lions terminal indigestion, they need to find the solution within.Reuse content