British & Irish Lions
Howley slams "cynical" Kings
June 17, 2009
James Hook receives attention from Lions doctors in Port Elizabeth © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions backs coach Rob Howley has criticised the "cynical" performance of the Southern Kings after the Lions lost fly-half James Hook for the opening Test against South Africa on Saturday with a head injury. Hook was helped off in the first-half after a high tackle and joins prop Euan Murray on the sidelines for the crucial meeting with the Springboks in Durban.
Hook's Welsh team-mate Stephen Jones has been widely tipped to take the Test fly-half berth, but the Ospreys man was slated for a place on the bench due to his versatility and attacking verve. He is now set to undergo further tests on his head and neck, although the citing commissioner for Tuesday's game in Port Elizabeth saw fit to take no further action against any player.
"I think there was a cynical mark on the game," said Howley, as the Lions dusted themselves down back at Test base camp on Durban's sea-front. "There were a lot of off the ball instances that weren't picked up by either the touch judge or referee. James had a bump to his neck and head, and it is an on-going assessment. It was a quite high-ish tackle, being kind, and he is a bit groggy.
"It was a very physical game. There were incidents in the game, particularly with Gordon D'Arcy - twice off the ball - which for whatever reasons were undetected. That's probably the most physical game we have played on this tour. We anticipated that type of game. James has got an ability to play in different positions. We haven't selected the Test 22 as of yet, so whether or not he was going to be in that 22 is a good question. But you are going to miss a player of that quality."
The Lions' current run of six successive wins is their best since 1989, when they claimed Test series glory in Australia under current head coach Ian McGeechan, although the Springboks are still overwhelming favourites to claim revenge for their loss in 1997. The Lions will be hoping to catch the Springboks cold however, with Peter de Villiers' side having not played a competitive match since their demolition of England at Twickenham last November.
"There is a fantastic spirit in the camp, very similar to 1997," said Lions kicking coach Neil Jenkins, whose prolific points-scoring underpinned that series success. "It is a huge game for us on Saturday. We've only got one Test at sea level this time, rather than 12 years ago when he had two, and the guys are going into it in good shape."
The Test side will be named by McGeechan on Thursday, with players being informed of their fate either on Tuesday night or before training on Wednesday.