From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
Ian McGeechan took a leaf out of Warren Gatland’s book by going for as many combinations as he could when selecting his first Lions team of 2009. The Leinster, Leicester and Euan Murray of Northampton were ruled out of the game as the side was picked from those who trained in the week beginning 18 May. That meant, as Gatland did when he named his first team as Wales coach in 2008, McGeechan could put the Ospreys back three together and play the Andy Powell – Martyn Williams axis in the back row. We’ll also see if Keith Earls is the real deal, and whether he can seriously challenge Brian O’Driscoll for the No 13 jersey.
Again McGeechan has shown how wise he is by doing this, using players who had started to work together and get used to each other. Guys like O’Driscoll and Harry Ellis will get their run on Wednesday against the Golden Lions.
Unfortunately with two days to go it is still a phoney war between the sides as no one has played. Paul O’Connell and Ian McGeechan brushed off the jibe from South Africa coach Pieter De Villiers, who suggested these Lions weren’t legends like the team of 1974. De Villiers has obviously forgotten guys like Paul Wallace, Tom Smith, Jeremy Davidson, Lawrence Dallagio, John Bentley and Alan Tait, who certainly didn’t arrive on these shores as legends, but left with a series victory in 1997. But there’s nothing like a barb or two to get the boys together, so I think De Villiers has done McGeechan’s team talk for him, or rather Gerald Davies’ as he has been asked to present the jerseys before this game.
Looking at the mixture of Currie Cup players the Lions should clearly win easily against this Royal XV, in a game that will be overshadowed somewhat in South Africa by the Super 14 final.
The task for these Lions is to win, and win well against a scratch side, and although he would never admit it, McGeechan must be delighted that Munster failed to make the Heineken Cup final, so his captain Paul O’Connell could play against the Royal XV and set the right tone for the tour.
The Lions themselves are very relaxed, strolling around the shops and the group I saw was a good mix with Riki Flutey striding along, tell stories to O’Connell and O’Callaghan. Jamie Roberts and Mike Blair couldn’t have been more accommodating when meeting the media, and that bodes well for the future!
Things may be looking too good for some, one coach admitting to me that things “had gone too well” so far. The feelgood factor is like to continue, at least until Saturday.
Lions: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Paul O’Connell (capt), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Phil Vickery, 18 Alun-Wyn Jones, 19 Stephen Ferris, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Riki Flutey.
Date: Saturday, May 30
Kick-off: 14:00 (UK time)
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant referee: Jaco Peyper, Reuben Rossouw
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman
Assessor: Arrie Schoonwinkel
Timekeeper: Gabriel Pappas