They can win, but it all hangs on the man in the No 12 shirt

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The Independent Online

I trust that the Lions party have arrived in New Zealand firmly believing that they have a good chance of winning the Test series. I certainly think that they have. There is only a thin line between winning and losing at that rarefied level and if they get the breaks they can succeed.

I trust that the Lions party have arrived in New Zealand firmly believing that they have a good chance of winning the Test series. I certainly think that they have. There is only a thin line between winning and losing at that rarefied level and if they get the breaks they can succeed.

They should comfort themselves with the fact that the last time the Lions left these shores four years ago they were led by Graham Henry, and he narrowly lost the series, despite having a better side than his opponents, the Australians. Now, he is in charge of the New Zealanders and despite having home advantage this time, the same thing could happen to him again.

Sir Clive Woodward's squad are much better equipped in manpower and resources than Henry's were in Australia and events might not conspire against Woodward as they did against Henry.

It is going to be close and the way the two leaders square up to each other over the next month or so is going to be a fascinating aspect of the tour.

If the First Test was due to be played next week rather than 25 June you would be worried at the way the Lions played against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium last Monday evening. But it isn't, so you shouldn't.

Not that their performance was in any way reassuring. But the purpose of the game was more financial than anything else and considering the contribution the 62,000 crowd must have made to the travelling expenses of the small army Woodward has taken with him the evening was a great success.

The fans did not get much for their money but then these early sorties do often turn sour. John Dawes' great Lions squad of 1971 lost their first match Down Under - in Australia - before going on to win so famously against the All Blacks.

Even so, and allowing for the fact they had had only four training sessions, it was a bad performance. At least they now know how tough it is going to be. A lot of strike players were missing but I had a problem with the fact that the Lions were so naïve and tentative. They did not play as a unit and when things were going wrong they should have gone back to basics. They spilled too much ball and seemed to have the idea that eventually they would tire the Argentinians out and roll over them. Neither happened.

Scratch side they might have been but Argentina played good, competitive rugby and in Frederico Todeschini they had an elegant and accurate goal-kicker. Jonny Wilkinson played well but, understandably, there was a lot of rustiness in his play and he did not take command as much I would have liked him to.

The Lions found no way to penetrate Argentina's drift defence and their wingers just could not get any room on the outside. Since New Zealand have the best drift defence in the world this is obviously something the Lions have to get a grip of pretty quickly.

You have to remember that the last time Wilkinson played international rugby he had the benefit of Mike Tindall at No 12, which I believe is the key position for two main reasons.

First, you have to try to carry the ball across the gain-line in order to get behind the opposition and set a target for your forwards. Secondly, you have to straighten it up and make sure the defensive line can't drift. Gordon D'Arcy, like Wilkinson returning from a lay-off, did not manage to do either and life was therefore made easier for the Argentinian defence, who were able to cope very well.

Meanwhile, the Lions' defence was not at all well-organised and in the end they saved face only thanks to Wilkinson's goal-kicking. The way he nailed the pressure kick to earn the draw would have been a comfort to Woodward.

But overall Monday night was a set-back they did not need and I wonder what sort of an inquest they had with all those coaches trying to put their pennyworth in.

Woodward will have done his usual meticulous preparations. He knows that his Test team will have to dominate up front if they are to have a chance and I don't see why they shouldn't.

But trying to work out how and with whom he is is going to combat the All Blacks in the Tests is still a futile exercise. He may have the outline framed in his mind but he will be influenced by what happens in the early games and in training, which is going to be very competitive.

The great appeal of Lions' tours is to watch the Test side slowly take shape. And it will be slow - and Henry will be the last to know.

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