British & Irish Lions
McGeechan names powerful Lions
May 28, 2009
Lions captain Paul O'Connell, tour manager Gerald Davies and head coach Ian McGeechan talk to the media in Johannesburg © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has named his side to face a Royal XV in the first game of their tour to South Africa.
McGeechan has handed nine players their Lions debuts, including the youthful centre pairing of Jamie Roberts and Keith Earls, fullback Lee Byrne, wing Tommy Bowe, scrum-half Mike Blair, hooker Matthew Rees, prop Adam Jones, flanker Joe Worsley and No.8 Andy Powell.
Paul O'Connell leads the side from the second-row alongside England's Simon Shaw, while his international team-mate Ronan O' Gara partners Scotland skipper Blair at half-back. With players from Leinster, Leicester and Northampton all rested after their European Cup involvement last weekend, the young Earls has been handed the chance to stake his Test claim early on.
The back-three has the look of a potential Test trio, with Ospreys Byrne, Bowe and Williams combining.
In a heavyweight pack, Joe Worsley and Martyn Williams will be looking to combine at the breakdown while Andy Powell will provide the thrust from the base of the scrum. The game will mark a turnaround from the Six Nations, where Worsley won Man of the Match against Wales due in part to his marshalling of the powerhouse Powell.
"I think it is really exciting that we have a lot of players making their debuts," said Mcgeechan. "I remember my debut against Western Transvaal at Potchefstroom in 1974 and it is a career highlight. For young men such as Keith Earls and Jamie Roberts it will be a day to remember and they will be thrilled to get an early taste of match action on the tour. Outside these guys is the proven experienced combination of the Ospreys' back three of Byrne, Bowe and Shane Williams.
"While we have a lot of players making their Lions debuts there is a huge amount of international experience in the team. The average age is 28 that reflects the maturity we have in the squad. On Saturday we have in the team Martyn Williams, Ronan O'Gara and Simon Shaw who are on their third Lions' tour. They know exactly what is in store in terms of the provincial matches. Scottish captain Mike Blair is at scrum half while players of the calibre of Paul O'Connell, Joe Worsley and Adam Jones have played over 50 Tests each."
"Following excellent preparation and a period of acclimatisation in South Africa I know the lads are raring to go on Saturday against the Royal XV and will be anxious to get the tour off to the best possible start."
British & Irish Lions: Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Ronan O'Gara, Mike Blair, Andrew Sheridan, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Simon Shaw, Paul O'Connell (capt), Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Andy Powell
Replacements: Lee Mears, Phil Vickery, Alun-Wyn Jones, Stephen Ferris, Mike Phillips, Stephen Jones, Riki Flutey