Rugby

The possible Lions Test squad

2009-04-20 15:32
Shane Williams (Gallo)

Johannesburg - Expect a pack of strong, aggressive scrummagers and some good lineout forwards, backs who are solid but probably not electrifying and a solidity which is a byproduct of the methodical and comprehensive planning of British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan when he announces the side for the tour to South Africa on Tuesday.

Also expect more Irish players and less from Wales following Munster's demolition of the Ospreys a week ago and a leaning towards present form rather than historical deeds of greatness.

One of those who could fall by this approach is last year's IRB Player of the Year, Shane Williams, who has not been a shadow of the 2008 try machine this year.

Wales captain Ryan Jones is another who seems to have peaked at the wrong time, and other great names such as Jonny Wilkinson - injured since September last year - Gavin Henson, devastating at his best but also injured and with an average season behind him, and even Scotland scrumhalf Mike Blair may not be read out to join the squad.

Williams, however, might be saved by the lack of flair and penetration in the backline. His combination with Wales fullback Lee Byrne could secure a place after a not so great season.

The Lions selection process has not been a smooth exercise. There are a number of injuries which, coupled with the lack of form of some players previously regarded as certainties , will see McGeechan and his co-selectors still debate the final eight or so positions on Tuesday morning.

Most of these vacancies will be behind the scrum. Up front the Lions will be able to call on a tight five that could be a considerable improvement on the 1997 pack that boasted the great Martin Johnson.

The 2009 squad will have Paul O'Connell, his Irish lock-mate Donncha O'Callaghan and Alun-Wyn Jones to provide some bulk and agro. Andrew Sheridan and Gethin Jenkins are two more than solid looseheads who will exploit the dearth of good Springbok tightheads, and on the right hand of the British scrum Adam Jones, Scotland's strong man Euan Murray and veteran Phil Vickery will provide a formidable challenge.

The Brits don't have a high opinion of South Africa's current crop of scrummagers, and they will no doubt try and exploit this with good front rowers who can dominate rather than disrupt as they did on tours gone by when the Boks were still the scrumming leaders of the world.

The big Bok runners like Pierre Spies/Ryan Kankowski, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and even tight forwards such as Bismarck du Plessis and Victor Matfield will play a role in the type of loose forwards selected as part of the Lions' combination. Joe Worsley should, for that particular reason, be in the side.

There are a number of wings who would do well on the hard South African fields, too many solid if somewhat unimaginative flyhalves that could see McGeechan bring only two instead of the expected three, and solid rather than impressive centres where Riki Flutey, Jamie Roberts and Gordon D'Arcy could get the nod with Brian O'Driscoll.

The Irish captain is playing a more flat but equally effective game, and has added to his and his team's armour with the way he now fulfills an extra loose forward's role at the point of breakdown.

The side will be selected by McGeechan. There will be input from his coaching staff but his will be the decision on who goes and who stays.

The Lions Test XV could look something like this:

15 Lee Byrne (WAL), 14 Tommy Bowe (IRE), 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain) (IRE), 12 Riki Flutey (ENG), 11 Shane Williams (WAL), 10 Ronan O'Gara (IRE), 9 Mike Phillips (WAL), 8 Jamie Heaslip (IRE), 7 Joe Worsley (WAL), 6 Tom Croft (ENG), 5 Paul O'Connell (IRE), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan (IRE), 3 Euan Murray (SCO), 2 Jerry Flannery (IRE), 1 Gethin Jenkins (WAL)

Replacements: 16 Lee Mears (ENG), 17 Phil Vickery (ENG), 18 Alun-Wyn Jones (WAL), 19 David Wallace (IRE), 20 Tomas O'Leary (IRE), 21 Stephen Jones (WAL), 22 Luke Fitzgerald (IRE)

There are many, many more to select from, but McGeechan's remaining 14 players - if he picks 36 instead of 35, which he is expected to do -will probably include a number of the following players: Adam Jones, Geordan Murphy, Ryan Jones, Martyn Williams, Gethin Jenkins, David Wallace, Keith Earls, Tommy Bowes, Delon Armitage, Harry Ellis, Marcus Horan, Leigh Halfpenny, Stephen Ferris, Mark Cueto, Ross Ford, Tom Shanklin, James Hook and Nathan Hines.

The team will be announced at 2.30pm SA time and the announcement will be screened live on SS1.

Read more on:    british and irish lions
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