From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
THINGS ARE now starting to get very serious in South Africa. A huge number of Lions fans arrived on tour yesterday and the media party increased by around 33% as we moved towards time minus 8 days before the first Test match.
The Lions have dispensed with the old midweek and Saturday sides because as Ian McGeechan says there simply isn’t enough time to split the camp into two teams.
That means tomorrow’s game against Western Province is the final trial for many players, against a side that hasn’t been disrupted by injuries and players leaving their camp to join up with the Springboks.
The Stormers ended the Super 14 season, in tenth, with five winners so on paper the Lions should win going away, to give themselves a confidence boost going into next Saturday.
McGeechan described himself as a ‘benevolent dictator’ in today’s press conference announcing the team to play the Western Stormers, in reference to how the Test team will be selected on Tuesday night, after the Southern Kings match, which is a 2pm (UK) kick off time.
The team will return to Cape Town after the Tuesday match by special charter from the Kings game in Port Elizabeth and the coaches will then meet to select the Test side.
“We haven’t had a vote yet and I’m not expecting one this time,” said McGeechan.
He has 22 big decisions to make but the way I see the Western Stormers match is:
* Definitely two or three points behind Lee Byrne, but Kearney is almost a dead certainty for the Test bench and could still displace Byrne for the Test.
* The 14 shirt is his to lose, after his stunning form in the Six Nations and against the Golden Lions.
* Will be a far better player for his Lions experience, but shifting Brian O’Driscoll out of the Test side could take a performance of incredible heights!
* Again Jamie Roberts has made such an impact on this tour and Flutey’s injury puts him five points behind the Welshman. Still a world-class operator though.
* Three points ahead of O’Gara, and needs another accomplished game to book his seat in the Test
* Battling with Mike Blair (who will start on Tuesday) for the Test bench spot as Mike Phillips has been one of the revelations of the tour.
* There is a piece of paper between Sheridan and Jenkins. Whatever happens both of them will have a big role in the Tests. Another big scrummaging performance from Big Ted could see him start.
* Another who is battling for a bench spot, as Ross Ford will play on Tuesday. Lee Mears is three points above both. Good lineout throwing from Rees tomorrow will make the selectors’ job very difficult.
* Handing his the captaincy for tomorrow shows that he is ahead of Euan Murray, who acknowledged himself he needs to do more in the loose. But Murray is a fearsome scrummager, so never rule someone out if they can do that!
* Alun Wyn Jones is two points ahead when it comes to the front jumper, but don’t underestimate O’Callaghan’s partnership with O’Connell.
* Tough on the Scotsman as he is competing with the skipper for his place.
* Nothing between him and Tom Croft, now that Ferris has had to go home. Worsley offers physicality and a big game on Saturday could get him in.
* Perhaps the toughest decision for McGeechan has: Williams v Wallace. Tomorrow will decide it
8. Andy Powell
* Jamie Heaslip is one of the finds of the tour so is three points ahead of Powell. But don’t forget what Powell did to the Boks last November. Powell needs a barnstorming performance to make McGeechan think again.
But do you agree with my theories. Who would be in your Test team? Comment here and tell us.