Sat, Jun 11, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Maoris pose next challenge to Lions in test four of tour

AP , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

The British and Irish Lions will face the first major test of their 11-match New Zealand tour today when they meet the New Zealand Maoris at Hamilton.

The match has been labeled the fourth test of the Lions' tour, their toughest assignment outside their three matches against the All Blacks.

The Maori starting 15 contains nine All Blacks and there are three more, including brilliant flyhalf Carlos Spencer, on the bench.

The Lions' noticeable area of vulnerability in the first two matches on tour, against Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, has been its scrum, an area in which it would have expected -- before the tour -- to have superiority.

Both Taranaki and Bay of Plenty, on short preparations, outscrummed the Lions for at least part of their matches and caused the tourists to build their game around patchy set piece possession.

The Lions had further shortcomings in the loose, where they struggled to move away from static rucks and mauls that at least temporarily inhibited the effectiveness of their backline.

Lions coach Clive Woodward bolstered his scrum on Saturday by naming the all-England front row of hooker Steve Thompson and props Julian White and Andy Sheridan in a possible prelude to his test selection.

With locks Simon Shaw and Paul O'Connell and flanker Richard Hill, the Lions pack is substantial and match-hardened.

But scrummaging is less likely to be the Maoris' forte than hit-and-run loose play.

All Blacks tighthead Carl Hayman will anchor the Maori scrum beside international hooker Corey Flynn but stringbean locks Sean Hohneck and Ross Filipo may leave the Maori light in the engine room.

"I have no doubt we can put the acid on their scrum," Flynn said. "It's tough for them coming together from different countries, but it's just like us coming together from different unions.

All Blacks flankers Jono Gibbes and Mary Holah will give the Maori a speedy and powerful presencee. The tourists have lacked a competitive open-side flanker in their two outings, and that deficiency might constrain their backline.

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