Test places are up for grabs today as the battered British and Irish Lions take on second-division provincial side Manawatu.
In theory, the Lions can expect their most comfortable victory on tour, and they have an added incentive to impress head coach Clive Woodward after last Saturday’s first Test debacle against the All Blacks.
Two of the side thumped in Christchurch – Jason Robinson and Martin Corry - start at Arena Manawatu, while full-back Geordan Murphy, wing Shane Williams and flanker Martyn Williams are among those chasing Test spots.
Woodward is due to announce his second Test side tomorrow after a demoralising few days which saw three more players – captain Brian O’Driscoll (dislocated shoulder), flanker Richard Hill (knee ligaments) and centre Tom Shanklin (enflamed knee) – ruled out of the tour through injury.
Lock Danny Grewcock, meanwhile, is heading home after collecting a two-month ban for biting All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu.
Grewcock’s replacement, Wales forward Brent Cockbain, joined the Lions from Australia yesterday.
With resources stretched, he finds himself on the bench as another tour addition – Scottish forward Jason White – flies out to become Woodward’s 51st squad member.
Woodward did not consider Stephen Jones, Dwayne Peel, Gethin Jenkins or Ben Kay for the Manawatu clash because of minor knocks, while centre Gavin Henson rests what Lions management terms “a slight groin strain”.
Henson though, is expected to be named for second Test duty in Wellington, where the Lions must win or the series will be lost.
Lions fans are again out in force today, having made the two-hour drive north from Wellington, and they expect a try feast against easily the tourists’ weakest opponents of an 11-match schedule.
Conditions were dry and clear as hooker Gordon Bulloch led the Lions out, although the ground was not full to its 18,000 capacity.
Manawatu: Bryant, Gray, Campbell, Oldridge, Leota, Smith, Hargreaves, Matenga, Bradnock, Triggs, Rodgers, Faleafaga, Barrett, Kemp, Moore. Replacements: Easton, Cook, Maisiri, Moke, Palu, Buckley, Trew.
British & Irish Lions: Murphy, Robinson, Smith, D’Arcy, S. Williams, Hodgson, Cusiter, Owen, M. Williams, Corry, O’Callaghan, Shaw, Hayes, Bulloch, Sheridan. Replacements: Titterrell, Stevens, Cockbain, Back, Cooper, O’Gara, Cueto.
Referee: L Bray (New Zealand).