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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Lions mould yet to be forged
By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

With 77 minutes gone and the Lions trailing Argentina by three points, Jonny Wilkinson steadied himself for another penalty attempt.

Geordan Murphy and Shane Williams try to spark the Lions into life

As the English forwards turned away to build for one last, winning push, Welsh captain-for-the-night Michael Owen instead directed the fly-half's kick to the corner for a one-off tilt at glory.

English pragmatism and Celtic flair. It's a cliche but, hey, cliches are fun, and when these elements fuse you feel the force that forged the Lions legend.

But things sure haven't welded yet. The Pumas held the Lions attack, only to concede another penalty in the fifth minute of injury time.

Owen's instinct was again a quick attack, but Neil Back barked Sir Clive Woodward's orders from the sidelines, before Wilkinson stepped forward and salvaged a draw.

"Michael Owen captained superbly and made the right call at the end," said Woodward later, while Owen claimed that all the players had backed his earlier call to go for the corner.

The Lions squad blamed poor control at the contact area and a lack of time together as a team for their lacklustre display, and spoke of an over-eagerness to use limited possession.

But all the considered reaction under the watchful gaze of spin doctor Alastair Campbell could not hide the fact that two different games were being played.

Lions fans at the Argentina game
Lions fans were distinctly underwhelmed at the Pumas game
The Lions pack, containing six England players by the end of the game, ground slowly forward and looked mystified when the Millennium Stadium crowd jeered at the decision to hand Wilkinson the penalty kicks.

"Three grand I paid for this tour, you're having a laugh," shouted one disgruntled fan. "Play some rugby!"

The tricky back three of Shane Williams, Geordan Murphy and Denis Hickie tried to oblige, but they looked as tagged-on as go-faster stripes on a Volvo.

A ripple of excitement emerged every time Williams touched the ball, although the shout of:

"Go on Shane! Go on my son! Give it some!" sounded somehow wrong in a Cockney accent.

With the first half drifting away, Murphy and Williams tried to spark some life with a quickly taken line-out, but the flow was missing and the Welshman's knock on snuffed out the danger.

Wales' path to the Grand Slam saw the men in red looking to run at every opportunity, but when Owen and Williams tried to combine from another Argentine kick to touch the rest of the team were off the pace, steadying themselves for the set piece.

Wilkinson's boot continued to keep the Lions in the game in the second half, leaving Woodward pleased to come away from a difficult night without defeat.

Argentina disrupt the Lions' team bonding
But the pragmatic lesson would suggest that the Lions pack is not strong enough to dominate and that the gameplan has to grow and develop.

Argentina's approach, based around a monster tight game and a metronomic kicker, was the one many expect Woodward to use in New Zealand, following his successes in 2003.

It was far from the strongest Lions pack on Monday, and the Pumas may have presented a more formidable front-five challenge than anything that will be seen in the land of the long white cloud.

It should be remembered that the 2001 Lions won their first match 116-10, while the triumphant 1971 tourists lost 15-11 to Queensland and were derided as the worst Lions side ever sent to New Zealand.

But with the cock-sure Kiwi journalists suggesting that Bay of Plenty may field their second XV against the tourists this summer, it is clear they see little to fear from the best of Britain and Ireland.



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