The Rugby Blog Lions team for the First Test vs The Springboks

We are but a few days away from D-Day. This may be a truncated Lions Tour but the anticipation in the lead-up to the First Test in Durban is as fervent as ever. And a huge part of that fascination is the contest for places within a squad which is trying to pull together as much as possible, in which one of your closest mates could rob you of a career-long dream.

The Lions team for the first test will be selected in the next day or two. Here at The Rugby Blog, we have canvassed the opinions of past and present contributors to put together the definitive Rugby Blog Lions Test squad for Durban.

Geech and his coaching team insist that the game against the Southern Kings will still contribute towards selection. However, there is a degree of unanimity in most positions among our panel suggesting that the majority of positions are nailed on and only a few remain up for grabs. It is a different story on the bench however where there are differences of opinion on how the bench should be used.

For example, loose-head prop was the tightest decision with Gethin Jenkins edging out Andrew Sheridan by 3 votes to 2. But does Sheridan then get a spot on the bench or not? If he does, do you go with 3 front-rowers on the bench because only choosing Sheridan and a hooker leaves Phil Vickery to play the full 80 minutes, something he rarely does.

Another interesting discussion surrounded the 2nd row. Many would prefer a combination of Simon Shaw and Alan Wyn-Jones but our one rule was that the captain, Paul O’Connell, had to be included. 4 of the 5 votes therefore went to Wyn-Jones to start but only one person then put Shaw on the bench, suggesting he is not seen as someone who can come on a change a game. With the back row spots going to Tom Croft, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip in a unanimous verdict, it could be argued that the pack is a little lightweight. If we need Wyn-Jones to compete in the lineout, should Sheridan then get the nod in the front row to add a bit more grunt. It is a fine balancing act which the selectors must play in the pack.

There was almost complete agreement however in the composition of the back line, aside from one vote for Luke Fitzgerald on the left wing instead of Ugo Monye. This means that, in Tommy Bowe, Ugo Monye and Jamie Roberts, the Lions will line up with 3 players who were not necessarily seen a test starters  when the tour commenced but have played their way into the team through their good form. This is exactly what Geech and his men were looking for at the start of the tour.

It is possible that the bench will cause more discussion than the actual team. James Hook edges Ronan O’Gara by one vote, possibly due to the fact that he offers something different from Jones. Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald cannot be split and the way the votes panned out, we have 3 front rowers on the bench, leaving Croft to cover the 2nd row positions.

So, for what it’s worth, here is the Lions Test Squad for the First Test against South Africa in Durban, as chosen by The Rugby Blog selection panel. Nod in sage agreement or rabidly tear it to shreds as you see fit.

1 Gethin Jenkins
2 Lee Mears
3 Phil Vickery
4 Paul O’Connell
5 Alan Wyn Jones
6 Tom Croft
7 David Wallace
8 Jamie Heaslip
9 Mike Phillips
10 Stephen Jones
11 Ugo Monye
12 Jamie Roberts
13 Brian O’Driscoll
14 Tommy Bowe
15 Lee Byrne
16 Ross Ford
17 Andrew Sheridan
18 Euan Murray
19 Martyn Williams
20 Harry Ellis
21 James Hook
22 Rob Kearney/Luke Fitzgerald

11 thoughts on “The Rugby Blog Lions team for the First Test vs The Springboks

  1. It’s ridiculous having 3 front rowers on the bench.It would an unprecidented move, and not one that is required. The attrition rate of the other players is just the same as the front row, and there’s a reason why this is never done.

    VERY tight between Croft/Wallace/Williams. i’d be tempted to start williams +1, and leave croft/wally on the bench, as they have more impact value.

    Backline picks itself, which is worrying when you consider the changes that may be forced for 2nd/3rd test.

  2. Such a shame that Williams and Wallace can’t play together but it’s impossible. Williams has the shout in my opinion by a knat’s. Also there has to be place on the bench for Powell surely? Which would mean one of your front 3 goes, (it was a crazy idea in the first place). Otherwise I’m pretty close to your selection.

    There is going to be a huge step up in SA performance on Saturday and sadly I don’t hold much hope, but will be cheering like a madman with all my bits crossed come the match.

    Come on boys !

  3. can’t see M. Wiiliams being left on the bench, what’s the issue with playing 2 opensides? better than playing 3 blindsides like this afternoon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    no need for 3 front row bench as Vickers can play both sides (i know he rarely goes 80 anymore but this is a bit different), but so can Sheridan we’re told lets see.
    Monye on the wing? still a little raw, S Williams a proven big game guy, out of sorts we know but…………………………………………………….

  4. i think that may well be the xv chosen.

    * i’d edge m. williams in front of wallace, personal preference; also sorry to see shaw marginalised
    * three front row replacements happens occasionally, not unprecedented, but while croft can play lock, there’s still only one replacement for the back 5. if a whole replacement front row is on the bench, i think geech would choose 5 forwards and just 2 backs (perhaps ellis and hook?)
    * shane williams’ selection would go totally against the declaration that mcgeechan will select on form. he can’t pick him…
    * worsley’s ‘tree chopping’ capability will be missed if, as expected, he’s not chosen. i’m worried about back row players having been continually chosen out of position through the tour – this shouldn’t happen on saturday, regardless of how tough the wallace/ williams decision is…
    * first nor second test XV shouldn’t have to start for the midweek team next tues, we should make sure there is some replacement cover on hand…

    bring it on!

  5. I might be in a minority here but when you compare the backs selected by the Boks to the backs we are likely to select, i think we have the upper hand. I think there’s a lot of pace and raw skill in the Boks backline but i’m doubting whether Pienaar can manage a game at the top, top level. Especially if Wallace does a Betsen on him and becomes his shadow for the game.

    Then if he’s not able to play with confidence and authority, i don’t think they’ve got the centres to take hold of the game and dominate. Plus Steyn can be a liability and doesn’t always make the right decisions, unlike Byrne.

    However, i think they have a huge upper hand in the pack and the opposite scenario is evident. They have leaders/decision makers/match winners throughout their pack and we might not be given chance to expose their backs.

    I do think we have a chance though but everything has to go our way, we have to be dominant in the scrums and all 22 will have to play better than they have so far on tour.

  6. Loads of teams have been going with 3 front rowers on the bench for a couple of years now because the back 5 of the scrum can be interchangable. Agree it’s a risk. However, think that if you go with just 2, then Sheridan can’t be on the bench unless you are happy to switch Jenkins to the tight head when he comes on. Don’t think you can rely on 80 high quality minutes out of Vickery. Could argue that you should therefore not pick him. Personally, given the mobility of our back 5, I’d rather pick Sheridan to smash them up a bit instead of Jenkins.

    Definitely agree that our back line is stronger, especially in the midfield. Just hope that Phillips doesn’t get too selfish and wrapped up in his personal battle with Du Preez.

    Balance of the pack is a worry. Wyn-Jones is our best 2nd row and his partner should be picked accordingly. But O’Connell is captain and therefore has to play and he does not complement Wyn-Jones. Then, unless we play Powell or Worsley, we look a bit light in the back 5.

  7. All very interesting arguments and personal points of view. Unfortunately yet again there have been injury problems, so Murray and Hook are no longer available for the first test. This must now be causing real problems for the selectors as Hook especially (but also Murray) were real contenders for the bench (if not starting XV).

    I’m seriously concerned our pack is too lightweight to compete against the boks and so we maybe need to think least about who is the best in their position, but who will compliment and enforce a strong pack/team.

    And so in light of this my team for saturday would now be:

    15. Byrne
    14. Bowe
    13. BOD
    12. Roberts
    11. Monye
    10. Jones
    9. Phillips
    8. Heaslip
    7. Williams or Wallace (can’t decide)
    6. Powell
    5. POC
    4. Wyn Jones or Shaw (can’t decide)
    3. Vickery
    2. Mears
    1. Jenkins

    16. Ford
    17. Jones
    18. Croft
    19. Ellis
    20. O’Gara
    21. Flutey
    22. Kearney

    Now I’m not a fan of Powell and I do think Croft should be starting, but we need weight in the pack and unfortunately Croft’s ability to cover 5 positions makes him an ideal sub. Can’t decide for 4 and 7, however my preferred choice is first. Sheridan needs to prove himself before he gets a start (been very quite so far) and with Murray out, Jones gets the nod for the bench. Ford speaks for himself. With our backs looking like a good combination don’t be surprised to see high/dangerous tackles on them, and so we need cover for all 7 positions. Blair has been awful all tour and so has no chance of making the team. Hook would have been my choice over O’Gara, but he is no longer available for saturday. Flutey is our best option for covering centre and Kearney speaks for himself. This isn’t the team I would like to put out, but I do think it offers us a little more balance and a forward pack that is strong, powerful and mobile. Please feel free to tell me I’m insane

  8. Tommy, you’re insane.

    But only on your selection of Powell who was turned over time and time again on Tues and was not up to Test quality. Even Hines played better than him so he’d be ahead of him in the blindside pecking order in my book but Croft is my first choice.

    Also, i think we definitely need 4 forwards/3 backs on the bench if not 5 forwards/2 backs. Of your four backs subs i’d have to say Flutey would miss out as Kearney can cover back three with Bowe moving to centre if needs be.

    Flutey has been very unlucky on this tour through injury and being selected in the poor teams. He hasn’t really had a chance to impress but i still think he is quality and might make an impression in Test 2 or 3.

  9. 15 bryne
    14 bowe
    13 o’driscoll
    12 roberts
    11 monye
    10 o’gara(better kicker, better passer, better game controller)
    9 phillips
    8 heaslip
    7 wallace
    6 croft
    5 o’connell
    4 jones
    3 vickery
    2 mears
    1 jenkins

    16 rees
    17 sheridan
    18 a.jones(scrum important and croft can play 2nd row as cover)
    19 williams
    20 ellis
    21 jones
    22 kearney(versitile)

  10. It’s a real shame that the O’Connell captaincy decision nails down a test spot that he doesn’t deserve. One of the most convincing arguments for having O’Driscoll as captain was that he was assured the 13 jersey, especially without Shanklin on the tour. O’Connell isn’t half the player Simon Shaw is — the big man shades his captain in every facet of the game. As a lock, I can tell you who Matfield and Botha would be more worried by.

  11. The team seems to be close to picking itself – unless you’re neil who seems to have been watching a different tour – a tour in which O’Gara has outperformed Jones. It’s of course been made easier by the gutting injuries to Ferris and Halfpenny

    With a few places in debate, it’s interesting to note how many players are not even in consideration – and to ask “well why the hell were they on the plane?”

    Keith Earls – the boy quite simply wasn’t ready – and everyone outside of Munster knew it.
    Fitzgerald – he isn’t explosively quick, he doesn’t look for that much mid-field work, his defence isn’t huge, he over-runs the ball carrier.
    Blair – class is permanent but form is fleeting. Well Blair’s form had hardly been golden going into the tour, and it’s not far off sh*t right now.

    Foden and Armitage were the two names I was most surprised to see missing from the initial list – their exclusion looks all the more mistaken now.

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