The British and Irish Lions face into the first match of the tour this weekend against the Royal XV, a team which in reality the Lions should have few problems dispensing with. The true value of this outing will be in testing new combinations and seeing which players are coming into form at the right time.
The Lions have named a monster pack weighing in at a mammoth 918kg which would have no difficulty in matching the physicality of any of any of the South African teams. The two props, Adam Jones and Andrew Sheridan, almost picked themselves considering Phil Vickery is a likely captain of the midweek team and Euan Murray is recovering from an intensely physical final against Bourgoin. Sheridan faces a straight shoot out for the loosehead position with the in form Gethin Jenkins and a big performance is a must from him.
The second row of Paul O’Connell and Simon Shaw has the look of a possible Test combination while Matthew Rees will be very grateful for two big targets to hit with his sometimes wayward darts. Shaw will be looking to impress on the hard grounds of South Africa and finally nail down a Test spot for the Lions having lost out in 1997 to Jeremy Davidson and in 2005 to Ben Kay and Donncha O’Callaghan.
The backrow combination and centre combination are the least likely to start in the Tests. The backrow of Martyn Williams, Andy Powell and Joe Worsley doesn’t look like it will combine very well and Andy Powell and Joe Worsley are one dimensional players. Powell offers hard, direct running and little else while Worsley’s defensive performances have been impressive an off load from the flanker is greeted with shocked gasps from the crowd. Martyn Williams will be left to do most of the link play and work at the breakdown but he does have two impressive centres to play off. Keith Earls’ dream season continues as he lines up outside the Welsh battering ram Jamie Roberts. If Roberts can draw in some defenders with his hard running Earls’ intelligent lines of running and searing pace could help him lay down a marker for a possible place on the bench for the Tests.
The Opsreys’ back three line up with Lee Byrne and Shane Williams looking to rediscover some form and Tommy Bowe looking to finish his best season yet.
The half backs look the most likely pairing to start the Test matches with Mike Blair’s sniping runs and excellent game management hopefully providing a foil for the kicking game of O’Gara, whose passing game should release his backs outside him.
While the Lions should win this at a canter it will be interesting to see how they plan on doing it. Expect a hugely physical performance up front with thundering runs from Powell, Sheridan, Shaw and O’Connell as well as the Lions making use of the maul as it now illegal to collapse after the ELVs’ repeal. This should free up some space for the pacey back three and centre
combination to do some damage out wide. This Lions team will go wide but only after it’s earned the right to do so. The time for talking is done. Now it’s down to business.