Size matters as Lions trust in British beef

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The Independent Online

When it comes to preparing for a Test series with the All Blacks, size is everything. The British and Irish Lions will field the biggest front row in red-shirted history against New Zealand Maori in Hamilton tomorrow - a unit apparently put together by the firm responsible for the Great Pyramids.

If Andrew Sheridan, Steve Thompson and Julian White wreak as much havoc as the tourists hope, the odds on them staying together for the matches at the business end of the trip will shorten considerably.

Sheridan, Thompson and White - barn-door characters from Sale, Northampton and Leicester respectively - bring 54st 10lb of prime English beef to the equation, some 11st more than the previous heavyweight Lions champions, the all-Welsh combination of Billy Williams, Bryn Meredith and Courtney Meredith who took on the Springboks in 1955.

Sir Clive Woodward has given a number of other players their first start on the tour, most notably the two half-backs, Matthew Dawson and Stephen Jones. Dawson, a three-time Lion, is competing with the Welshman Dwayne Peel for a place in the opening Test in Christchurch in 15 days' time, while Jones, a Lions virgin but nobody's idea of a young whippersnapper, is generally considered to be close on the tail of Jonny Wilkinson.

Jones, the outstanding outside-half in the Six Nations Championship, arrived late because of club commitments in France with Clermont Auvergne. "This is Stephen's chance to put down a marker for a Test place," said Woodward's assistant, the Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan. "He is match fit because he has been playing until very recently and we consider this a great opportunity for him."

The decision to rest Wilkinson suggests the World Cup-winning outside-half will play his first game in New Zealand against Wellington next Wednesday, a match in which Woodward originally planned to field his Test formation.

The head coach is keen on a little more fine-tuning. Assuming Wilkinson can handle perhaps one and a half games in 72 hours, the élite Lions may combine for a period against Otago in Dunedin a week tomorrow.