After weeks of speculation, and the discussion of several connotations by rugby fans and analysts across the globe, the wait is finally over.
Ian McGeechan has named his 22 man squad for the first test against South Africa on Saturday, with few raised eyebrows following the tourists’ 6 match unbeaten run in the run-up to the tests.
The key areas of contention were those of the openside flanker, and left wing positions, which will be filled by David Wallace and Ugo Monye respectively.
Wallace continues his family’s fine Lions tradition, and will be hoping to emulate his brother Paul in securing victory against the World Champions South Africa. Monye, meanwhile caps a remarkable rise to fame with his selection ahead of Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Williams on the wing.
Alun Wyn Jones partners captain Paul O’Connell in the second row, with Donncha O’Callaghan providing cover from the bench following a dynamic performance against the Southern Kings on Tuesday.
The Welsh combination of Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones will hope to continue in it’s prosperous form on Saturday, and with Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll in the centres, the Springboks have a combatitive three-quarters to contend with. The backline is completed by Lee Byrne at fullback.
Meanwhile, in the pack, Tom Croft starts at 6, despite not even being included in the original touring squad, and the back row is completed by Jamie Heaslip, who fended off a late charge for the number 8 shirt from Andy Powell. The front row consists of three time test capped Gethin Jenkins (2005) and Phil Vickery (2001), and Lee Mears at hooker.
Two notable omissions from the squad are Shane Williams – the current IRB Player of the Year, and Andrew Sheridan. Welsh prop Adam Jones has been preferred to Sheridan as he can cover both the loose and tight head positions.
Coach Ian McGeechan highlighted how difficult the decision was,
There were two notable omissions from the match 22 with no place on the bench for winger Shane Williams, the 2008 world player of the year, or England prop Andrew Sheridan.
“The Test team has been picked on form following the six provincial matches,” said Lions head coach Ian McGeechan.
“There were some very difficult calls to make as the players as a group and individually have done everything that we have asked of them and performed on the field.
“It has been 20 years since a Lions team has won all of its provincial matches leading up to the Test series so it is very satisfying to be in such a position.
“The entire squad and the management have worked hard to create an outstanding team environment. Everyone has done this very professionally and it is fair to say that I would not change anything that we have done so far.
“There’s no doubt South Africa are probably the best team in the world at the moment, they’re very talented, have a settled coaching team and play quite a varied game, from strength and power to subtlety and speed – we’re under no illusions how good they are.”
Meanwhile, captain Paul O’Connell heaped praise on those not selected, “The way the guys have reacted is great, a tour hinges on moments like this and Test selections,” he said. “It’s not only how the Test players react to to selection but how the others react to not being picked.
“This is the big start of the tour, the atmosphere in the squad is what’s going to be carry us through the next three weeks – it’s been good so far.
“I’d imagine it’ll be an emotional changing room (on Saturday), something we’ve spoken about is how special is it.
“At the start of the tour we’d have said we’re proud of our club and proud of our country, but this is the greatest jersey we can pull on.
“We’ve got great pace in the backline and a very fit front five. There’s no doubt we’ll need things to got our way, as any tour does, but if we put together a good 80 minutes, no doubt we can win.”
What do you think? Is this the team to bounce back from heartache in 2001 and 2005?
British and Irish Lions team to play South Africa in the first Test in Durban on Saturday:
L Byrne (Wales and Ospreys); T Bowe (Ireland and Ospreys), B O’Driscoll (Ireland and Leinster), J Roberts (Wales and Cardiff Blues), U Monye (England and Harlequins); S Jones (Wales and Scarlets), M Phillips (Wales and Ospreys); G Jenkins (Wales and Cardiff Blues), L Mears (England and Bath), P Vickery (England and Wasps), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales and Ospreys), P O’Connell (Ireland and Munster, capt), T Croft (England and Leicester), D Wallace (Ireland and Munster), J Heaslip (Ireland and Leinster).
Replacements: M Rees (Wales and Scarlets), A Jones (Wales and Ospreys), D O’Callaghan (Ireland and Munster), M Williams (Wales and Cardiff Blues), H Ellis(England and Leicester), R O’Gara (Ireland and Munster), R Kearney (Ireland and Leinster).