British & Irish Lions
Halfpenny handed Lions debut
June 5, 2009
Leigh Halfpenny, pictured with tour mascot Lenny the Lion, will make his Lions debut this weekend © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan has named a young side to face the Cheetahs at Free State Stadium on Saturday. The Lions will be charged with keeping their momentum alive after thrashing the Golden Lions 74-10 at Ellis Park on Wednesday.
Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny, the youngest Lion on tour, has been handed his debut after linking up with the squad this week following treatment on a thigh injury in Cardiff.
None of the starting XV from Wednesday's victory are involved, while England centre Riki Flutey and Wales openside Martyn Williams are unavailable through injury.
Tour skipper Paul O'Connell starts in the second-row alongside his Munster and Ireland team-mate Donncha O'Callaghan, making his first appearance of the tour. Alongside them in the pack there are first starts for hooker Ross Ford, prop Euan Murray, flanker Stephen Ferris and No.8 Andy Powell.
England scrum-half Harry Ellis and fly-half James Hook also make their first starts in South Africa, while a young centre pairing of Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls may be targeted by the home side. In the back three, Halfpenny is joined in an all-Welsh trio by Lee Byrne and Shane Williams.
"With the selection of Donncha O'Callaghan, Leigh Halfpenny and Luke Fitzgerald in the starting XV it means that all the squad players will have taken to the field according to plan," said McGeechan. "We also have new arrival Gordon D'Arcy on the bench which gives him a chance to get straight into the action.
"Although there are no players backing up from the starting XV against the Golden Lions several of the replacements who saw action in that match have now been selected for their first start. For the Cheetahs match Andy Powell, Stephen Ferris, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Harry Ellis and James Hook are all in the starting XV team for the first time.
"On the very first day, I said to the players that they are coming on a Lions tour to push for a Test place. The only way they can do that is if we give them a start in their positions, not just stay on the substitutes' bench. We need to give ever player the opportunity. I didn't want to bring one player on this tour and not give him an opportunity to start in one of these first three games. We are not going to be looking at pre-determined Test selections."
Tour manager Gerald Davies reiterated the Lions' desire to keep their intensity up and laid down a further challenge to Saturday's side.
"The starting XV to play the Cheetahs is an interesting one with club and country combinations in many areas," he said. "The boys who played against the Golden Lions put down a marker in terms of the way we want to play and I know those playing against the Cheetahs will be very keen to keep the momentum going and produce another strong Lions performance."
British & Irish Lions: L Byrne (Ospreys and Wales); L Halfpenny (Cardiff and Wales), K Earls (Munster and Ireland), L Fitzgerald (Leinster and Ireland), S Williams (Ospreys and Wales); J Hook (Ospreys and Wales), H Ellis (Leicester and England); A Sheridan (Sale and England), R Ford (Edinburgh and Scotland), E Murray (Northampton and Scotland), D O'Callaghan (Munster and Ireland), P O'Connell (Munster and Ireland, captain), S Ferris (Ulster and Ireland), J Worsley (Wasps and England), A Powell (Cardiff Blues and Wales).
Replacements: M Rees (Scarlets and Wales), A Jones (Ospreys and Wales), S Shaw (Wasps and England), N Hines (Perpignan and Scotland), M Blair (Edinburgh and Scotland), R O'Gara (Munster and Ireland), G D'Arcy (Leinster and Ireland)