Rugby

Campese stirs Lions row

2013-02-14 14:41
David Campese (File)
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London - Renowned England-baiter David Campese waded into the row on Thursday over how many Red Rose players should be in the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of Australia.

England may be the only side in the ongoing Six Nations Championship who can complete a Grand Slam, having so far backed up their shock victory over world champions New Zealand, in December.

But despite the change in their on and off-field performance since a wretched 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign in New Zealand, Lions boss Warren Gatland this week stirred a hornets nest this week by suggesting that having too many England players in the combined side could create a media "circus".

Although the New Zealander has since insisted he was misinterpreted, Wallaby great Campese seized on Gatland's comments with the same alacrity the former wing showed in scoring 64 tries in 101 Tests for Australia.

"The relationship between Australia and the Poms (English) is as it's always been. Mate, you've got to sledge (verbally abuse) - everyone hates the Poms!," Campese told Thursday's edition of Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper.

"They win one game (against New Zealand) and all we hear is 'they are the best team in the world, they're going to win the World Cup, they're going to do this, this and this'.

"One game doesn't make you world beaters. You've only won one World Cup. You're playing against a country that's won two.

"That's the way we look at the English," said Campese, a member of the Australia side that beat England in the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham.

Gatland, on sabbatical from his role as Wales coach in order to lead the Lions, tried to recover some ground with the Red Rose Brigade on Wednesday by insisting he'd select an entire 15 made up of English players for the first Test between the Lions, a combined side drawn from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and Australia in Brisbane in June if they were the best available.

However, Campese - whose mistake helped cost Australia the 1989 series against the Lions - said: "I sympathise with him (Gatland). He's on a hiding to nothing whoever he picks. He'll be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't."

Rugby Football Union chairperson Bill Beaumont, himself a former England and Lions captain, said on Wednesday: "English players have always represented the Lions with enormous pride.

"It is well-documented the strong culture and sense of responsibility on and off the pitch that this England team possesses. Those fortunate enough to get picked will of course take those attributes Down Under."

The Lions, who haven't won a series since England great Martin Johnson led them on their 1997 tour of South Africa, face Australia in the first of three Tests in Brisbane on June 22.

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