From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
Having spent the morning with some of the Lions players at their impressive base, at St David’s School, in Sandton, Jo’Burg, I feel the side that runs out on Wednesday will be far, far better prepared than the side that stumbled its way through the win over the Royal XV side last Saturday.
A bigger crowd and a far more intimidating atmosphere will help the Lions and I think they have received Warren Gatland’s promised “wake-up” call! That involves them feeling more at home with the altitude, training conditions and with each other. This is a far more confident squad that the one of seven days ago.
Riki Flutey (knee), Keith Earls (shoulder) and Andrew Sheridan (mega blisters), Ronan O’Gara and Luke Fitzgerald are the five players who are not available although Leigh Halfpenny (or Halfers as Stephen Jones calls him) will arrive tomorrow, after having recovered from his quad injury.
Flutey would definitely started at 12 in this match, but I really like the look of the 9 (Phillips), 10 (Jones), 12 (Roberts) and 13 (O’Driscoll) combination as that looks like the sort of set-up that could beat South Africa, and there are of course lots of players able to come in and challenge them before the Test matches. I am am also expecting great things from Flutey on this tour – if he can get fit he could have a big part to play as he was getting better and better for England this season.
The great thing about the Lions is that Lee Byrne put in a world-class performance on Saturday, but can’t rest on his laurels as Rob Kearney now comes in to show what he can do at 15. O’Driscoll told us today that the Lions have lifted even his game. “I have to bring my A game, even to training”, which shows you exactly how fortunate these 37 players are, to be on this tour.
The Golden Lions will be stronger than the Royal XV but with an impressive front five as well, I take the Lions to put the tour back on track at Ellis Park and win by 20 points, a game of far more intensity.
Look out for American Todd Clever, who has made the bench for the Golden Lions, the only foreign international in South Africa’s Super 14 sides.
It kicks off at 6.10pm UK time, live on Sky Sports, so I would estimate a big tv audience back home.
British & Irish Lions: 15 Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland), 14 Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland), 13 Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland), 12 Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales), 11 Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England), 10 Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales), 9 Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales), 8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland), 7 David Wallace (Munster/Ireland), 6 Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales), 4 Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland), 3 Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England), 2 Lee Mears (Bath/England), 1 Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales).
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland), 17 Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland), 18 Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland), 19 Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales), 20 Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England), 21 James Hook (Ospreys/Wales), 22 Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales).
Golden Lions: Louis Ludik; Michael Killian, Jannie Boshoff, Doppies la Grange, Dusty Noble; André Pretorius, Jano Vermaak; 8. Willem Alberts, Franco van der Merwe, Cobus Grobbelaar, Willem Stoltz, Brad Mockford, Gert Muller, Willie Wepener, Lawrence Sephaka
Subs: Ethienne Reynecke, JC Janse Van Rensburg, Ernst Joubert, Todd Clever, Chris Jonck, Walter Venter, Earl Rose
But who do you think will make an impact on Wednesday. And what is your score prediction for the match?