Lions will do it their way

NZPA     17 Jun 2005

Jonny Wilkinson missed his dropped goal attempt -- another sign he's not yet back to his accurate best -- but his first touch of the game reflected exactly how the Lions will approach the games that count on this tour.

The world famous first five-eighth won't hesitate to drop ball to ground to foot in search of three points again. Equally, coach Sir Clive Woodward will have no qualms trotting out a side at Jade Stadium next week with instructions not far removed from what he would tell England during their glory years of 2002-03.

New Zealand commentators caned the Lions' performance against a very poor Wellington, believing the tourists' Test hopes are more bleak than ever.

They're right about Wellington, a side shorn of their Test stars -- in itself a disappointing scenario worthy of review on high.

The tourists did all they could at Westpac Stadium, clobbering the second best provincial outfit in New Zealand in the set piece and shutting them out with enough ease to suggest they could do it against better teams.

The All Blacks currently boast an excellent side. They justifiably are favoured to win the series but continually writing off the Lions will only harden the resolve of an uber-experienced group who are making the Tests their priority.

Sir Clive Woodward's men played with some nice width in the first couple of provincial games but the loss to New Zealand Maori left them wanting to regain momentum. Desperately. It didn't matter how and Wilkinson's droppy last night proved it.

Who remembers the England World Cup recipe two years ago? Tough set pieces, tight defence, honed fitness and dead-eye goalkicking made for a pretty potent mix.

The missing ingredient is still flair but Woodward's England did okay without it and it won't be missed against the All Blacks if conditions are anything like last night.

The match bore the hallmarks of England B's smothering of the New Zealand Maori at New Plymouth two years ago. The next game on that tour was the English defeat of an All Blacks side who started strong favourites but came up short. Lack of buildup counted against them (any alarm bells yet?) and they couldn't match Wilkinson's boot and the sort of pressure game Woodward will exhort from several of the same players.

Last night's Lions pack was industrious to a man. There was a lot to like on first viewing of Irish flanker Simon Easterby but England's Richard Hill will still wear No 6 in the Tests. To balance the change, Englishman Danny Grewcock may make way for Ireland's Paul O'Connell.

The backline has Jade Stadium stamped all over it, as much for what they did without the ball as with it.

Wilkinson is not the tackling turnstile some might have hoped for. In fact he's a key figure in a defensive wall looking increasingly hard to break down.

Midfielder Gavin Henson's continual lowering of Ma'a Nonu leaves you wondering why every defender in the Rebel Sport Super 12 found it so hard.

Speaking of Henson, another mystery is why so few Welshman are here. He, halfback Dwayne Peel, winger Gareth Thomas and prop Gethin Jenkins last night gave some idea why Wales were Europe's best this year.

Henson is not the attacking genius some have made out but appears a neat mix of skill and steel, with a gigantic boot to boot. Peel is several steps ahead of his peers for the No 9 jersey while it would surprise if the experienced Thomas isn't atop Woodward's list of wingers.

Perhaps the most impressive is Jenkins. The lone Welsh tight five forward on tour, he is equally adept on both sides of the scrum and outstanding in general play.

A cocky poser sure to arise in offices and pubs during the test series is which of the Lions players would be good enough to be selected in the All Blacks' starting 15?

Jenkins already shapes as a decent candidate.

And if Woodward's men can perfect the English World Cup ways, the question could well be reversed.