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No Excuses.
6 June 2005, 9:05 pm
Excuses had no place in the Lions' vocabulary last night as they prepared for the tour opener against Bay of Plenty.
Excuses had no place in the Lions' vocabulary last night as they prepared for the tour opener against Bay of Plenty. The management made it clear they do not expect things to go pear-shaped in the face of the expected fiery welcome from the Bay side.

The Lions appreciate the importance of getting momentum into their camp in the lead-up to the first test on June 25. Defeat is unthinkable, and assistant coach Eddie O'Sullivan was confident no one will be searching for a hiding place about 9pm on Saturday.

"From what we've seen this week, the expectations are we will play well," he said.

The Lions insist they are ready for a rigorous examination. O'Sullivan's fellow weekend coach, Andy Robinson, talked of the feeling of being in a provincial team tackling an international visitor. "They'll want to be the first team to beat us. We understand what Bay of Plenty will be saying in their dressing room," Robinson added.

The interest in early Lions matches is how combinations gel. For example, tonight they field an Irishman and a Welshman at centre/second five-eighths, and also at halfback/first five-eighths; a Welsh/Scot/English front row and an Irish/English pair of locks. It sounds like a running stand-up gag, but any ducking and diving about needing more time together will have a short shelf life now they are putting in the hours behind the red curtain at Onewa Domain.

In the case of Gavin Henson, he is having his first game for a couple of months, having got over a groin injury. He and captain Brian O'Driscoll have the makings of a first-test combination. Wing Mark Cueto arrives with the reputation of being a turbo-charged tryscoring machine, and halfback Dwayne Peel is fancied as the pick of the No 9s.

There are sufficient hard men in tonight's Lions pack to bury any notion they'll shy away if the forward battle gets rugged. The problem for the Bay has been limited preparation time. The effect is that coach Vern Cotter and his players have had less to draw on in their planning. "We'd like to spend more time looking at the opposition," Cotter said. "You have more knowledge and insight and can second-guess a bit. But we'll overcome that just by enjoying the occasion."

Translation: The Bay will roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. You don't need a degree in sooth-saying to predict the hosts will aim to make the whole night as uncomfortable as possible for their guests. If the Bay can get sufficient possession against an imposing Lions pack they will ask questions of their defensive prowess.

A glance down the Bay side shows where their strengths lie: up front where the Chiefs provide six of the eight players, with gifted No 8 Colin Bourke and Chiefs extended-squad lock Mark Sorenson. Watch for the Bay to mix their lineout up, perhaps look for quick throw-ins and shortening the line to keep the bigger Lions forwards on the move.

Newcomer Murray Williams at first five-eighths has wise heads either side in halfback Kevin Senio and Grant McQuoid and another old stager, Adrian Cashmore, at the back.

Bay of Plenty have stressed the importance of their defence in the lead-up. The suggestion is they won't try too much fancy stuff in the backs. "We've got to keep it relatively simple, we don't want to over-complicate plays," Cotter said.

Yet it wouldn't be the Bay if there wasn't room for a spot of razzle-dazzle somewhere tonight.

By David Leggat - New Zealand Herald.

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