Last chance Lions take on Southern Kings
Graham Jenkins in Port Elizabeth
June 15, 2009
Lions head coach Ian McGeechan will decide on his team for the first Test against the Springboks following Tuesday's game against the Southern Kings © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions take on the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday in their final warm-up clash ahead of the eagerly-awaited Test series against South Africa.
For the Lions, unbeaten in their five previous tour outings, the match represents the last opportunity to experiment before the first of three meetings with the Springboks on Saturday but more importantly it offers the players one last chance to catch the eye of head coach Ian McGeechan before he settles on his side for that pivotal Kings Park showdown.
Realistically, the vast majority of the Test side will have already been inked in by McGeechan long before he sits down with his fellow coaches tomorrow night to nail down his best 22 - but for one or two the clash against the untried Southern Kings could provide a crucial lifeline.
As a result of McGeechan's rotational policy the game will also see a handful of Test-bound players go into action just four days before squaring up to the Boks and in time that may prove costly. But McGeechan has been steadfast in his policy of offering every member of his squad the very best chance to put their case for a place in the Test side insisting that the positives in terms of team spirit far outweigh the potential negatives.
The Lions' latest opponents hope to form part of the soon-to-be-expanded Super Rugby competition in 2011 and will eventually be fed by the Border, Eastern Province and South Western Districts unions in the Eastern Cape. However for this clash, the official launch of the franchise, an invitational side has been hastily drawn together that may be lacking in terms of preparation but will not be found wanting when it comes to commitment to the cause.
Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan will lead the Lions and with the honour comes the chance to cement a place alongside tour captain and Munster colleague Paul O'Connell in the second row for the first Test.
Amongst those also hoping to get the nod for Saturday's clash in Durban will be prop Euan Murray who is vying with veteran Phil Vickery for the tight-head role while on the opposite side of the scrum Andrew Sheridan has been handed the chance to edge Gethin Jenkins out of the likely Test XV.
Fly-half James Hook was a late arrival on tour but has grabbed his chance and another solid display along with his versatility could see him force his way into the Test reckoning although at the moment he lies behind Stephen Jones and Ronan O'Gara in the pecking order for the famous No.10 shirt. No.8 Andy Powell will be another keen to follow his impressive showing against Western Province last weekend with another eye-catching display but it will take something special to oust Jamie Heaslip from McGeechan's plans for that position.
In the back line, Shane Williams was orginally given one more outing but a bout of sickness sees the in-form Ugo Monye take his spot on the wing with the Welshman dropping to the bench. Meanwhile, Luke Fitzgerald starts on the other wing and is another who may benefit from his ability to slot into more than one position.
The side has a largely shadow team appearance with the Lions looking to keep their powder dry ahead of what is the most important game of their tour but bench does feature five players who will probably also see action in Durban with back row forwards Tom Croft and David Wallace, scrum-half Harry Ellis, fly-half O'Gara and wing Ugo Monye all having strong Test claims.
The Southern Kings may have only come together a week or so before the clash but they can still boast some notable talent and in coach Alan Solomons they have an ably experienced hand on the tiller.
Hooker Derick Kuun will lead a side that features five former Springboks in former Leicester lock Marco Wentzel, flanker Solly Tyibilika, flay-half Jaco van der Westhuysen, centre De Wet Barry and fullback Bevin Fortuin.
The former Boks are joined in the squad by South African 7s skipper Mzwandile Stick and IRB Sevens regular Mpho Mbiyozo while the presence of Toulon lock Ross Skeate and prop Jaco Engels ensures the Lions will not get everything their own way up front.
As a scratch side it is hard to know what to expect from the Kings and it will be equally difficult for McGeechan to draw definitive conclusions from the test they pose to his side.
Thankfully the game will be played out in front of another healthy attendance with a reported 30,000 tickets already sold for first event to be staged at the newly-built Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The 45,000 capacity venue was the first to be completed ahead of the arrival of the Fifa World Cup next year and provincial officials are eyeing a record crowd for a non-Test game against the Lions.
Five wins from five matches makes impressive reading for the Lions and as a result they have plenty of positives to reflect upon coming into Test week. But the weather blighted their performance against Western Province on Saturday and highlighted that there is still work to do with the tactical kicking game in particular coming under scrutiny at Newlands.
The unknown and untested opposition along with the lure of possible involvement next weekend should ensure this latest Lions selection cruise to a comfortable victory but a strong performance in addition to the victory is key to maintaining their hard-won momentum with the Springboks looming on the horizon.
Southern Kings: Tiger Mangweni, Wylie Human, Frikkie Welsh, De Wet Barry, Mat Turner, Jaco van der Westhuyzen, Francois Hougaard, Darron Nel Solly Tyibilika, Mpo Mbiyoso, Ross Skeate, Marco Wentzel, Ruan Vermeulen, Derick Küun, Jaco Engels
Replacements: Delarey du Preez, Dean Greyling, Lungelo Payi, Dries van Schalkwyk, Josh Fowles, Bevin Fortuin, Mzwandile Stick.
British & Irish Lions: Keith Earls (Munster & Ireland); Ugo Monye (Harlequins & England), Riki Flutey (Wasps & England), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster & Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster & Ireland), James Hook (Ospreys & Wales), Mike Blair (Edinburgh & Scotland); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks & England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh & Scotland), Euan Murray (Northampton & Scotland), Simon Shaw (Wasps & England), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster & Ireland) (captain), Nathan Hines (Perpignan & Scotland), Joe Worsley (Wasps & England), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues & Wales).
Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets & Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys & Wales), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers & England), David Wallace (Munster & Ireland), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers & England), Ronan O'Gara (Munster & Ireland), Shane Williams (Ospreys & Wales).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
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