Lions target another impressive showing
Graham Jenkins in Bloemfontein
June 5, 2009
Ireland's Keith Earls will be given another opportunity to show his class against the Cheetahs on Saturday © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions will be keen to lay down another impressive marker when they tackle the Cheetahs at Vodacom Park on Saturday in the third clash of their tour of South Africa.
Head coach Ian McGeechan's side travel to Vodacom Park fresh from annihilating the woeful Golden Lions in Johannesburg on Wednesday night. The tourists cut the hosts to shreds to erase the memory of their faltering display in the opening victory over the Royal XV in Rustenburg.
Despite a much-improved performance the Lions will not be getting carried away due to the limited endeavour of their last opponents. It was a step in the right direction, a big step at that, but the pressure will be on to deliver another significant marker against the Cheetahs who will be a much sterner test.
McGeechan's latest side has a youthful feel to it with 20-year-old Leigh Halfpenny handed his first start on the wing having recovered from a thigh injury and 21-year-old centre Keith Earls given an opportunity to erase memories of his error-strewn debut last weekend. Exepct the Irish livewire to bounce back to form and throw himself into the Test mix having shown what McGeechan called an exceptional response, both on and off the training field, to his disappointing debut.
Tour skipper Paul O'Connell returns to the second row alongside his Munster and Ireland team mate Donncha O'Callaghan who will be making his first start of the tour. As expected, hooker Ross Ford and prop Euan Murray will also line-up for the first time alongside Andrew Sheridan in the biggest front row the Lions can muster while flanker Stephen Ferris and No.8 Andy Powell are also handed starts.
A new-look half-back pairing of James Hook and Harry Ellis offers both the chance to add to the eye-catching cameos last time out and Luke Fitzgerald gets the nod at his preferred inside centre position. New arrival Gordon D'Arcy is set to see some action from the bench while Hook is likely to share the kicking duties with Halfpenny.
All must maintain the standards set by their team mates earlier this week or risk slipping down the pecking order when it comes to Test hopes - such was the emphatic all-round display against the Golden Lions.
In what was largely a disappointing Super 14 campaign that ended with them propping up the table, the Cheetahs accounted for the Crusaders and South African rivals the Sharks before pushing the would-be champions the Bulls. They did that with the ever-influential Juan Smith at their heart but they will be without him this weekend with Springboks coach Peter de Villiers opting to keep his powder dry.
However the Cheetahs, Currie Cup champions three times in the last four years, possess enough talent to trouble the Lions. Flanker Heinrich Brussow will have a point to prove after missing out on a place in the international set-up and as a result will relish the task of taking on their illustrious opponents.
He will be joined in the Cheetahs' line-up by centre Meyer Bosman and hooker Adriaan Strauss - both of whom have international experience. Prop Wian du Preez was also part of the wider Springboks training squad that took on a Namibian XV last week but did not make the final cut. In Smith's absence, No.8 Hendro Scholtz will lead the side while the Lions will also have to be wary of the pace of wingers Danwel Demas and JW Jonker.
Expect another up-beat display from the Lions as the battle for the much-prized Test jerseys intensifies. However, this side is highly unlikely to be afforded the same kind of room granted by the Golden Lions and the most bruising battle of the tour awaits at the breakdown.
The hosts have promised to question the Lions' appetite for a physical contest that will not only offer De Villiers some indication as to the tourists' heart but also inform McGeechan of the fight in his squad.
Momentum is key to any future Test series victory over the Springboks and the Lions' unbeaten record will no doubt still be intact as they head to Durban for their next clash with the Sharks. The comprehensive victory over the Golden Lions silenced the doubters and another similar performance would send a further tremor through the Springboks camp.
And with a bit of luck the Lions' last display will lure a few more people through the turnstiles and generate an atmosphere where there has been none so far on tour.
Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Danwel Demas, Corne Uys, Meyer Bosman, JW Jonker; Jaques- Louis Potgieter, Tewis De Bruyn; Wian Du Preez, Adriaan Strauss, Kobus Calldo, Nico Breedt, David De Villiers, Heinrich Brüssow, Francois Uys, Hendro Scholtz (captain)
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, WP Nel, Frans Viljoen, Kabamba Floors, Gerrie Odendaal, Louis Strydom, Fabian Juries
British & Irish Lions: Lee Byrne (Ospreys and Wales); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff and Wales), Keith Earls (Munster and Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster and Ireland), Shane Williams (Ospreys and Wales); James Hook (Ospreys and Wales), Harry Ellis (Leicester and England); Andrew Sheridan (Sale and England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh and Scotland), Euan Murray (Northampton and Scotland), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster and Ireland), Paul O'Connell (Munster and Ireland, captain), Stephen Ferris (Ulster and Ireland), Joe Worsley (Wasps and England), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues and Wales).
Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets and Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys and Wales), Simon Shaw (Wasps and England), Nathan Hines (Perpignan and Scotland), Mike Blair (Edinburgh and Scotland), Ronan O'Gara (Munster and Ireland), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster and Ireland)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referee: Mark Lawrence, Craig Joubert