Manawatu trial for second Test wannabes

CLIVE WOODWARD has delayed naming his team for tomorrow’s match against Manawatu in Palmerston North (8.10am).

With skipper Brian O’Driscoll, Richard Hill and Tom Shanklin ruled out of the tour due to injuries, as well as Danny Grewcock to a two-month suspension, Woodward now has 41 fit players from which to select two squads of 22 for games within five days. Clearly, the numbers don’t add up and with any likely replacements unavailable until at least the final midweek game of the tour against Auckland on July 5, Woodward’s once seemingly extravagant squad numbers are now stretched to the limit.

“We had a bad day in more ways than one,” said Woodward yesterday of the first Test in Christchurch.

“Based on that there will undoubtedly be players playing on Tuesday who will be playing or benching in the Test match on Saturday.

“So it becomes a very, very important game.”

Tomorrow morning’s game has effectively become a trial match for the second Test with three enforced changes in the 22 and a number of other positions up for grabs.

Gavin Henson’s omission from the first Test squad was the most controversial of Woodward’s decisions and the Welsh centre made his disappointment known before turning in a man of the match performance with two well-taken tries against Southland in Invercargill last Tuesday.

It looks as if he will be asked to prove his Test readiness once more with a run against Manawatu, after Woodward was asked whether the speculation spreading around Christchurch yesterday that Henson had quit or been sent home was true.

“I hope not,” Woodward said jokingly, “he’s playing Tuesday.”

If Gordon D’Arcy gets the nod to play alongside Henson in midfield tomorrow, it could provide the Leinster back with an opportunity to resurrect his tour following below par performances against the New Zealand Maori and Otago. Shane Horgan is one of the other candidates among the ever decreasing pool of centres, alongside Saturday’s incumbents, Will Greenwood and Jonny Wilkinson.

The way Woodward spoke yesterday, though, a lot of positions for the second Test are on the line against Manawatu.

“There’ll obviously be a few changes based on injury but I’ll be watching Tuesday’s game and those players will be playing for a lot. I wasn’t expecting to pick up this amount of injuries if I’m brutally honest and we’ve just got to readjust our plans slightly.

“I think I’ve got to hold my hands up and say ... going into the game I was 100% convinced I’d got selection right; in hindsight, I may have made a couple of errors and I intend to fix those come the weekend.”

The Lions coach insisted the tour had not been derailed by either the poor performance of his side against the All Blacks or the injury and disciplinary problems visited on his team at the weekend.

“The tour’s fine, we’ll get on with the tour tomorrow morning. We’re hugely disappointed and no one more so than me about what happened on Saturday.

“We let a lot of people down, especially ourselves. It wasn’t a good night but we’ve still got to front up big time. I believe we can still beat New Zealand at the weekend but Tuesday night’s a huge game now.

“We’ll pick the side in the morning and go from there.

“It’s been a great tour but it just wasn’t a good night and it wasn’t easy watching that video. We’ve got a week now, a big game Tuesday to put it right, we let a lot of people down and we’ve just got to front up and we intend to.”

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