British & Irish Lions
Lions set to announce Test side
June 18, 2009
Ian McGeechan will name his Lions Test side later on Thursday © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions head coach Ian McGeechan is set to deliver his Test side on Thursday, having let the squad know their fate at training. Speculation has raged in the press as to the make-up of the side to take on the Springboks at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday, with several selection headaches having been thrown up by the Lions' contrasting fortunes at the breakdown and in the scrum.
The Lions have already been dealt a blow with the news that James Hook and Euan Murray are unavailable for selection after sustaining injuries in the win over the Southern Kings in Bloemfontein on Tuesday, with Murray in danger of being ruled out of the tour due to his ankle ligament injury according to experts.
"He has had an x-ray which has excluded a break. However, he will need an MRI scan to access the severity of the lateral ligament damage and to exclude any other internal damage to the ankle joint," said Simon Moyes, who works out of the Wellington Hospital in London. "I expect Euan will not need an operation and that he will be treated with splint immobilisation, taping and physiotherapy. I expect he will be out of action for six weeks."
Former Lions scrum-half Gareth Edwards, who orchestrated the 1974 'Invincibles'' series win over the Springboks, highlighted the difficult selection issues and could not decide on the options in the back-row. Edwards' countryman Martyn Williams and Ireland's David Wallace have both put their hands up for selection on the openside, while Tom Croft and Joe Worsley are going head to head for the blindside berth.
Edwards, however, would not be surprised to see both Wallace and Williams in the Test back-row. Whoever is selected will have to deal with a fearsome Springbok trio of Juan Smith, Pierre Spies and the injured Schalk Burger's replacement Heinrich Brussow - who has already terrorised the Lions on this tour in the colours of the Cheetahs.
"It will be a very close call between them," he said. "There could even be a case made for them both playing."
Despite this, Edwards does not see any likelihood of further selection surprises. There are question marks over the front-row, with Gethin Jenkins and Andrew Sheridan going head to head, and also in terms of the identity of skipper Paul O'Connell's partner in the second-row, with Alun-Wyn Jones, Nathan Hines and Simon Shaw all having made a case. Edwards sees no room for manoeuvre in the backs, with his answer on the identity of the centres and wing definitive.
"I expect Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts to be the centres - they've been terrific together on this tour - and I expect to see Gethin Jenkins at loosehead prop, with Ugo Monye on the left wing."
The Lions have reeled off six successive wins on the way towards an eagerly-awaited opening Springboks showdown. But the tour's business end is about to commence, with recent history suggesting the Lions are up against it, having gone six games without a Test win stretching back to when they beat Australia in Brisbane eight years ago.
"The Lions will be so proud to be unbeaten on this tour, but they will also be aware they haven't reached their best," he said. "There have been a couple of games so far when it could have gone either way, but the reality now is they know they have to raise the bar.
"I remember the 1968 South Africa tour. We only lost one provincial match to a very good Transvaal team, but when it came to the Tests, we lost 3-0, with one draw. It's only the Tests that matter - they are what make that mark in the sand. A lot is said about the Springboks perhaps being undercooked (they haven't played a Test since November). By contrast, the Lions have been building up intensity. At some point, someone will take control of a moment in the game that makes a difference - someone will have that effect on the game."