June International Tours

McGeechan giving no clues away on Test selection



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McGeechan’s team has five wins in five games and yet with the first test only a week away British Lions coach the rugby man still won’t give any clues about the starting lineup to face South Africa.

Asked whether back row Martyn Williams pressed his selection claims by scoring a try on his return from a shoulder injury, McGeechan replied: “Not bad for an old man. Like the guy sitting next to me (prop Phil Vickery).”

Williams and Vickery are only on the fringe of the starting lineup even though Wales back row Williams is fit again and tighthead Vickery was captain of the team that beat Western Province 26-23 on Saturday to stretch the winning streak in warmup games.

Ireland winger Tommy Bowe seems a certain selection after scoring his fourth try of the tour and setting up another for Ugo Monye.

“He’s playing well,” McGeechan said. “He’s a very strong runner.”

Still, no confirmation that Bowe will be starting next weekend. In McGeechan’s thoughts, they are only three of 37 players who could be running out at the start of Saturday’s first test in Durban.

In his seventh Lions tour either as a player or a coach, the former Scotland international believes he knows how to prepare a squad for such an important test series. All the players have been kept thinking they will be in the starting lineup, as he tries multiple combinations.

McGeechan wants all players to get at least two starts.

That means players such as Gordon D’Arcy, the talented Ireland center who was called up last week as a replacement, likely will start in Tuesday’s final preparation game against the Southern Kings at Port Elizabeth.

Williams, despite his try and solid performance against Western Province, might need more game time too.

While aiding preparation, it means the side that starts against world champion South Africa at Kings Park on Saturday may not have played together on the tour.

“The attitude of the players and focus on the field when it is coming down to the wire shows how much winning means to us,” McGeechan said after the narrow victory over Western Province in which James Hook kicked the winning penalty from 47 meters with three minutes to go.

“But we know next week is going to be a different level again.

“There are going to be some tough selection calls. We’ve got to where we are now and we have got one game left before the first test match. Whatever warmup games you have got, they are not test matches.”

McGeechan likely will field Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts as partners at center and Mike Phillips as scrum half But he has to choose between Stephen Jones, Ronan O’Gara and Hook at fly half, Bowe, Monye, Shane Williams and Luke Fitzgerald as wingers and either Lee Byrne or Rob Kearney as fullback.

According to Western Province captain, flank forward Luke Watson, the Lions have plenty forwards to worry the Springboks.

“Physically, they definitely have the ability to have two or three packs to match the Springboks up front,” he said.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in the first test. Their rush defense rattles your cage and it is very difficult to get around it.

“It can put you on the back foot and the Springboks will have to take that into consideration.”

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