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Not Time Yet To Push The Panic Button.
6 June 2005, 7:38 pm
History was made in Hamilton when the New Zealand Maori defeated the Lions for the first time ever and for several reasons, rugby folk, of whatever bias, should be glad.
History was made in Hamilton when the New Zealand Maori defeated the Lions for the first time ever and for several reasons rugby folk, of whatever bias, should be glad. Not happy particularly if you re a Lions supporter, just glad.

Glad that the artisan that is Carlos Spencer and that a coach such as Matt Te Pou would end their respective Maori tenure with the memory of such an occasion. Disappointment for the Lions of course but no need yet to push the panic button.

It s still early days on this tour and the business of deciding the right combination for the matches ahead remains a work in progress.

And the matches ahead do not include Wellington, Otago, Southland or whoever else.

The matches ahead are the Tests on June 25th and July 2nd (the third one will be a factor based on what has gone before.

Clive Woodward alluded to this in the aftermath of the Maori defeat when he said, We will be judged on what happens in the Test matches, we won t be judged on what happened on Saturday (v Maori).

He is of course perfectly right and anyone who would write off this Lions side after the defeat in Hamilton would be perfectly wrong. Yes it is a setback but only insofar as it puts pressure on the tourists and dents their morale. But there will be enough nonsense printed and spoken in the coming days that will act as a rallying point for the players.

With a bus-load (literally) of back-up, there can be little doubt that the Lions knew all they needed to know about how the Maori could, would, might play.

They would have been well armed technically. What they mightn t have legislated for was the intense ferocity that the Maori delivered particularly in that opening half.

And when the Tests come around they can expect more of the same. And then some.

But forewarned is forearmed. Isn t it ?

And while you have to accept Woodward s opinion of how this tour will be judged you do have to wonder at some of the decisions that the Knight and his Squire (Eddie O Sullivan) made or didn t make - in the course of the game in the Waikato.

Would the tactic that brought them back into the game in Rotorua not have been employed to good use on Saturday?

To do that he would have needed to haul Steve Thompson ashore and send on Shane Byrne.

He would have also needed the choreographer (Ronan O Gara) and with Dwayne Peel on the bench, Matt Dawson s performance certainly merited the shepherds crook.

For Dawson, hero of the World Cup and a marvellous servant to the game, it really is time for a Question of Sport. He looked much more comfortable in the company of All McCoist on Friday night s programme than he did in the company of Ali Williams team-mates.

The English yeomanry that served Sir C so well in Australia will not deliver him a Test series in New Zealand. Neil Back, Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson seem to be the ones who will save this tour. They won t.

Back is 36 and the Blacks (and quite a good few others) will be salivating at the prospect of knocking him backwards.

Billy Whizz is no longer the unknown quantity.

Of the trio mentioned only Jonny Wilkinson can bring a new dimension.

There is still a lot of rugby to be played. And the big games are yet to come. They come at the end of the month and start of July. Defeats before will only offer bragging rights. As Woodward said, We will be judged on what happens in the Tests.

It s still all to play for. New Zealanders might need reminding that one swallow does not a summer make.

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