The fourth tour game this Wednesday sees the Lions run out against the Natal Sharks in Durban. McGeechan’s policy of mixing up his selections has continued as Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts renew their fruitful partnership in a team with only four survivours from Saturday’s 26-24 defeat of the Free State Cheetahs.
Traditionally, the Lions coaches have opted to pick their Test side for the Saturday match, in this case against Western Province, the week before the first test to improve team continuity. However, with McGeechan picking almost sure starters in Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts and Lee Byrne for the Natal match, it looks like the Test side will not get a run out as a XV prior to the first test.
Paul O’Connell (who packs down with his third second row partner in Alun Wyn Jones) leads the side, with Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Williams, and Lee Byrne all backing up following the narrow defeat of the Cheetahs on Saturday with fit again Riki Flutey making the bench.
The successful back-row combination of Tom Croft, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip get another chance to lay down a marker for selection. However, McGeechan’s tinkering continues in the half backs, with Mike Phillips and Ronan O’Gara starting for the first time together. Meanwhile, in the front row, Lee Mears hooks between the two Welsh props, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones.
McGeechan’s selection has kept everyone guessing, however, the unflappable Scot is throwing caution to the wind.
“We will try to get combinations together but as a XV it is unlikely they will have played as a XV before the first Test match,” McGeechan said.
“That is not a problem because everyone is doing the same things at training, we are working at the same things and everyone knows exactly what their role is meant to be.
“It has to be about us and what we want to try to be come the first Test. There are some risks, I am aware of that but I think the opportunities and the strength we get out of it as a squad far outweighs that.”
What do you think?
Lions team: L Byrne (Ospreys & Wales); S Williams (Ospreys & Wales), B O’Driscoll (Leinster & Ireland), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues & Wales), L Fitzgerald (Leinster & Ireland); R O’Gara (Munster & Ireland), M Phillips (Ospreys & Wales); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues & Wales), L Mears (Bath & England), A Jones (Ospreys & Wales), A-W Jones (Ospreys & Wales), P O’Connell (Munster & Ireland) (capt), T Croft (Leicester & England), D Wallace (Munster & Ireland), J Heaslip (Leinster & Ireland).
Replacements: M Rees (Scarlets & Wales), P Vickery (Wasps & England), S Shaw (Wasps & England), J Worsley (Wasps & England), M Blair (Edinburgh & Scotland), R Flutey (Wasps & England), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues & Wales).