Wallace secures Test berth
June 18, 2009
Ian McGeechan has named his Lions Test side © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has named the side that will take on South Africa in the first Test at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
Tour captain Paul O'Connell leads the side from the second-row alongside Welshman Alun-Wyn Jones, while in answer to the main selection talking point ahead of the announcement David Wallace has beaten out competition from Martyn Williams to start on the openside, with Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip completing the back-row. Croft's inclusion caps a remarkable turnaround after he was excluded from the original tour party named in April.
Gethin Jenkins, Lee Mears and Phil Vickery are charged with making a dent in the Springboks' front-row, with Adam Jones preferred to Andrew Sheridan on the bench. McGeechan also revealed that Scottish prop Euan Murray has been ruled out of the tour with an ankle injury, Ireland prop John Hayes joining the squad as a short-term replacement.
Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones start at half-back, with Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll continuing their blossoming partnership in the centre. Lee Byrne is in at fullback, with the in-form Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye named on the wings. James Hook trained with the Lions today, and is expected to play a further role in the tour after being ruled out of contention for the first Test with a head injury.
On the bench, Ronan O'Gara provides back-up at fly-half and England's Harry Ellis will deputise at scrum-half. Wales hooker Matthew Rees joins Jones on the bench, while Donncha O'Callaghan has been preferred to Simon Shaw and Nathan Hines as the reserve lock.
"We spent time on each position, and probably deliberated for more than two hours yesterday morning," said McGeechan. "A lot of players put their hands up, and we had to be fair in how we discussed things. We know it's a different ball game now. I have been very keen all along to give every player every opportunity, and the length of our deliberations showed how many players had put themselves in the frame.
"It challenged us as coaches picking the team. I read out the team last night. We've made some big decisions as coaches, but to be fair to the players, they wanted it that I would stand in front of them and read out the 22. We all then went out for a meal as a whole Lions group and shared each other's company, which I think is important after an announcement like that."
There had been speculation McGeechan might opt for both Wallace and fellow openside Martyn Williams in the back-row, with the breakdown being such a critical and potentially game-defining area.
"Both Martyn Williams and David Wallace are playing well," added McGeechan. "They are two clever players that mean we are in a strong position being able to call on both of them over the 80 minutes. When you are playing a Test match, where we could we wanted players playing in their number one positions. That is what we've tried to do."
Skipper O'Connell is confident that the squad can pull together in the short time before the game, ironing out the details in their game in order to hit the ground running at Kings Park.
"It's a great team, our focus is good, we know what we are doing and I think we've got a great chance," he said. "We had a good training session today and the spirit is there. The next few days are going to be important in ticking off the little details that can make such a big difference.
"When we've got the little things right on this tour we've looked a very good side. But we know the Springboks are the best team in the world, a really serious side who are going to provide us with a massive challenge. The Lions fans are a massive part of the whole Lions experience and we've already seen and heard them in Durban. Every bit of help you can get on a Lions tour is gratefully received and hopefully they can help us to do it."
British & Irish Lions: Lee Byrne; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Ugo Monye; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Lee Mears, Phil Vickery, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell (capt), Tom Croft, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Donncha O'Callaghan, Martyn Williams, Harry Ellis, Ronan O'Gara, Rob Kearney