A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

British and Irish Lions 2009 Tour to South Africa

The eagerly anticipated Lions tour takes place this summer with the boys from Britain and Ireland looking to emulate the success of their 1997 counterparts and beat the springboks, with the management team already confirmed.
Current director of Rugby at London Wasps and Lions legend Ian McGeechan coaches the team with a wealth of past experience to delve upon after leading the tours from 1989 to 1997, and success against both the Boks and Aussies.
Current Wales boss Warren Gatland will coach the forwards and former scrum half Rob Howley will look after the backs. Ex-Leiecter and England prop Graham Rowntree will manage the scrum and the defence is headed by Wasps coach Shaun Edwards.
A leaner backroom staff is a welcolme change from Clive Woodward’s 25 man team that failed to implement a single test win in the last Lions tour.

Fixtures for the tour have been released and with only 2 months to go before the Lions jet off for South Africa, the time for this summer’s Lions to be decided is ticking. My starting XV would go something a little like this;

1 – Loosehead Prop
Andrew Sheridan – A giant of a man standing at 6 feet 5 inches and 18 stone the Sale prop gets into the side for his immense physical strength, tough tackling and experience, as at 29 years of age and 30 caps for England under his belt it seems the perfect time for Sheridan to front the Lions pack.

2 – Hooker
Lee Mears – After finally stepping out of the international shadow of Steve Thompson, Lee has hooked extremely well for England recently and a solid performance against Ireland at Croke Park further reinforced his credentials. A tight tussle for the No. 2 spot with Jerry Flannery, but the Bath man gets the jersey for his in-game play.

3 – Tighthead Prop
Euan Murray – The Scotsman is in the driving seat for a starting place as he edges out both Phil Vickery and John Hayes for his attacking scrummaging, and is beginning to hit top form for Scotland and Northampton as he is getting closer to full match fitness after a long spell on the sidelines.

4 & 5 – Second Row
Paul O’Connell – Minimal competition for the Irish and Munster lock who is joined by club and country team-mate Donncha O’Callaghan. International hero’s and both former Lions, the Irish pairing would be hard to split up in South Africa, although the charges of Alun Wyn-Jones and Nick Kennedy are pressuring their places.

6 – Blindside Flanker
Ryan Jones – The Welsh captain is a candidate for the Lions captaincy and his displays for his country in the 6 Nations both this year and last, and his commendable performances on the 2005 Lions tour make him a shoe-in for a starting position this summer.

7 – Openside Flanker
Joe Worsley – A determined and rugged character, the Wasps back-row forward responded to being dropped for the opening game of this years Six Nations with oustanding displays against Wales and Ireland. A heavy hitter in defence, one of Worsley’s strongest points is his capabilities in midfield and the way he can shut out the opposition’s playmakers. A controversial choice ahead of Martyn Williams and David Wallace, i feel the England man is in perfect form to star for the lions and limit the immensely talented springbok fly-half Ruan Pienaar.

8 – Number Eight
Andy Powell – A direct tussle between the Cardiff foward and Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip, Powell gets the nod for his athleticism. Never one to shy away from the tackle, a strong ball-carrier and brilliant in the offload the Wales No.8 starts purely for his ability to put his team on the front foot.

9 – Scrum Half
Mike Blair – The Edinburgh and Scotland captain is a consistent player and leader. The livewire scrum half has an electric nature about his game and has been an oustanding performer at international level. Although run close by Welshman Mike Phillips, the strength and cohesiveness of Blair’s all round game make him the perfect man to bridge the gap between forwards and backs in this year’s tour.

10 – Fly Half
Stephen Jones – The attacking play and solid kicking from the Llanelli Scarlets back may see him edge ahead of the at times inconsistent and defensive Ronan O’Gara. The exciting running style of the other Welsh fly-half James Hook may see him compete with O’Gara in the midweek side, as the wealth of experience and stature of Jones should seal him a starting spot.

11 & 14 – Wing
Shane Williams – Despite size issues against a potentially large springbok backline, the Welsh wing wizard should start this summer for the Lions because above all he has immense international pedigree. 45 tries from 66 caps for his country is an oustanding return, putting Williams 6th on the all time leading test tries list and IRB International Player of the Year recognition in 2008 should cement his credentials in the Lions starting line up. And any doubters over Shane Williams performances against South Africa should look to his two tries in two tests for Wales against the springboks last summer.
Tommy Bowe – The other Lions wing spot should be taken by Ireland man Bowe. A large winger at 6 foot 3 inches and 15 stone the Osprey’s back has strong defence and is a confident finisher. Pipping to the post Leigh Halfpenny, who may just be a tad inexperienced for this Lions tour.

12 – Inside Centre
Gavin Henson – The welsh superstar was instrumental in Wales grand slam wins in 2005 and 2008. A natural footballer Henson adds soft hands, big tackling and acceleration to a Lions backline. Recently returning from injury has seen Henson play second fiddle to Jamie Roberts for Wales, although the Lions coaches will feel they can coach the best out of the Ospreys man. Riki Flutey and Luke Fitzgerald add to a headache at No.12 for the Lions.

13 – Oustide Centre
Brian O’Driscoll – Hard to argue with the credentials of the Leinster man whose last Lions tour as captain was cut short due to a horrific injury against New Zealand. BOD will want to make up for that disappointment and may well be in line for the captaincy again this time. Doubts over form and fitness were put to bed with a matchwinning display against England in the 6 Nations this year, where his try settled the game. Tindall and Shanklin other options.

15 – Full Back
Lee Byrne – The wales and ospreys back is authoritative under the high ball, picks intelligent lines and attacks them at pace. His inclusion in the team will add a kick to the backline although competitors Rob Kearney and England man Delon Armitage are both in form.

16 – Gethin Jenkins
17 – Jerry Flannerry
18 – Alun Wyn Jones
19 – Jamie Heaslip
20 – Mike Phillips
21 – James Hook
22 – Jamie Roberts

Other Squad Players
Adam Jones                      Phil Vickery                     Marcus Horan
Nick Kennedy                  James Haskell                Martyn Williams
Dwayne Peel                     Ronan O’Gara                  Danny Cipriani
Luke Fitzgerald              Mike Tindall                    Tom Shanklin
Rob Kearney                     Leigh Halfpenny           Delon Armitage

3 English, 2 Scottish, 4 Irish and 6 Welsh representatives in the startin XV.

8 out my 15 choices were ratified by Guscott, as he would select Stephen Jones when Wilkinson injures himself

And who would make Jeremy Guscott’s British Lions XV:

15 – Lee Byrne
14 – Tommy Bowe
13 – Brian O’Driscoll
12 – Gavin Henson
11 – Shane Williams
10 – Jonny Wilkinson
9 – Mike Phillips
8 – Jamie Heaslip
7 – David Wallace
6 – Tom Croft
5 – Paul O’Connell (capt)
4 – Simon Shaw
3 – Euan Murray
2 – Ross Ford
1 – Gethin Jenkins


March 12, 2009 - Posted by | Rugby Union


  1. Beginning with the front row selections:
    1. Andrew Sheridan YES big powerful player who’s returning to form. Will have a huge impact in the scrum and if he runs riot in the loose like he did in the 07 World Cup, he will give the SA some serious problems to deal with.

    2. Lee Mears maybe not, has been given endless oppurtunity on the international stage and has never shined as brightly as expected, therefore my choice would probably be Jerry Flannery or Ross Ford. Flannery has a far more dynamic attack than Mears and Ford is a big lad, something the Lions will be needing in their tour of South Africa.

    3. Euan Murray MAYBE, a quick prop with great lines of running, however when it comes to fronting up to the likes of Van der Linde it could be questionable how far he will get.

    5+4 O’Connell and O’callaghan YES and NO. The YES for O’Connell is because although he plays a very boring game, hes good at what he does, leads from the front and is a great lineout commander something that will be needed more in SA than it was in Newzealand in 05. O’Callaghan, is a no because with the pure strength and power of Bakkies Botha in the SA 2nd row, a player will be needed to match that power, therefore I would call upon the services of Nathan Hines. When on form he can be just as potent as Botha and the agression he brings could help to match that of the South Africans.

    6. Ryan Jones, YES although I’m not a fan of the Welsh, Jones made a huge impression when called upon in Newzealand in 05 and has continued with great form earning him the Captaincy of his country over the likes of players such as Martin Williams. He has great go forward, something that will be needed in South Africa if the backs are to have any space to play.

    7. Joe Worsley, maybe not, I rate Worsley hes a great tackler and dynamic in attack. However he is not quite quick enough as a number 7 and this will be greatly needed as the SA back row will be oozing pace and efficiency around the tackle and breakdown area. Therefore it has to be Martin Williams, due to his speed and knowledge of the game, as well as a formidable work rate.

    8. Andy Powell, NO, although Powell has hit the international scene at pace, when his running game was sussed out he was shut down by the England pack without difficulty. He’s only on top running when his team are going forward. Therefore Jamie Heaslip would be called upon with his size 16 feet. Dynamic in attack, aggressive in defence with pace to burn and a sidestep that would make Jason Robinson proud.

    9. Mike Blair, YES, has had great form, takes the easy yards around the ruck that will be needed to give the Lions team some go forward.

    10. Stephen Jones, YES, pulls all the strings in the Welsh attack at the moment, making it what it is. Defence is questionable, however it could be a long time before the Lions have access to a 10 who was as hard hitting as Wilkinson.

    11. Shane Williams, NO, yeh ok got a great attack but his defence is poor. A slightly bigger more pyhsical winger such as Halfpenny or Fitzgerald. Although young, some of the youngest players have made some of the biggest impressions on sport.

    12. Gavin Henson, YES or NO, if he hits form then yes. Attacking lines are great, and it helps that he’s the best part 16 stone meaning his presence will be felt against the large SA backs. However if he’s not hitting form then hell no! He makes poor decisions and acts like a bit of a tart.

    13. O’Driscoll, YES, still has his moments of attacking genius and puts his body on the line in defence. However if Tindall continues to hit form then this will give selectors a headache, as his size and go forward would be a huge plus for the Lions back line.

    14. Bowe, YES, big and quick and lots of potential. A young player with a bright future.

    15. Lee Byrne, HELL TO THE YES, although the 15 Jersey is prehaps the most contested Lions jersey with the likes of Armitage and Kearney, Lee Byrne has shown incredible form. A great kicker, solid defence and with pace to burn in attack he is not only one of the top fullbacks in the Northern hemisphere, but on his current form, in the world at the moment.

    Unlucky to miss out (in no particular order):

    Armitage and Kearney, Vickery, Alun Wyn Jones, Thom Evans, Dwayne Peel, James Haskell, Dylan Heartley, Danny Care, Harry Ellis, Stephen Ferris, Jamie Roberts

    Comment by Mr Berbatov | March 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. I also rate Hines, but at the moment he hasn’t got the match fitness. If he plays the next few games for Scotland in the 6 Nations i agree he could be a Lion.
    Fair point about Worsley, he hasn’t been a consistent starter for England and Williams would be the obvious choice, but Worlsey will stop Pienaar pulling the strings.
    I rate Heaslip and think it’s close between him and Powell and it may go down to how they train and the pre-games before the test before a starter is penned in.
    Shane Williams is hot when on form and i think he deserves a starting place for his form over the past years, although take his size issues into account. He,Fitzgerald and Halfpenny may be fighting for that spot and again performances in the games before the tests may be crucial.
    Also Henson is slowly hitting the form that make him such a superstar and leaving the ugly showbizz cockiness behind, of which has scuppered Cipriani’s hopes of a Lion spot.
    Let’s hope the boys gell and win the series, whoever plays!

    Comment by jdickenson100 | March 13, 2009 | Reply

  3. Surely Phillips and Gethin Jenkins ahead of Blair and Sheridan! Martyn Williams and Alun Wyn Jones above Joe Worsely too – we need dynamism in South Africa. And before you accuse me of bias I wouldn’t have Andy Powell – id have Heaslip in ahead of him as teams are starting to work out Powell. Tommy Bowe would be an interesting choice – but if Sackey is fit I think he might be a good pick to counter the pace of people like Habana on the wing. Henson is so random, who knows what form he will be in when the summer rolls round.

    Comment by Gareth Edwards | March 15, 2009 | Reply

  4. Surely Phillips and Gethin Jenkins ahead of Blair and Sheridan! Martyn Williams and Alun Wyn Jones above Joe Worsely and Donncha too – we need dynamism in South Africa. And before you accuse me of bias I wouldn’t have Andy Powell – id have Heaslip in ahead of him as teams are starting to work out Powell. Tommy Bowe would be an interesting choice – but if Sackey is fit I think he might be a good pick to counter the pace of people like Habana on the wing. Henson is so random, who knows what form he will be in when the summer rolls round

    Comment by Gareth Edwards | March 15, 2009 | Reply

  5. Sheridan is the man to face Van der Linde in the scrum and if you get him taking the ball in the loose he can run riot.
    Blair and Phillips is a close call. Blair gives solid distribution and has quality leadership whilst Phillips is a more imposing presence but i’d still go for Blair.
    Alun Wyn Jones would be on the bench as cover at lock. Martyn Williams is another close call with Worsley but today Worlsey showed a more attacking dynamic to his play and his oustanding defence will be ever needed in South Africa but that one is down to matter of opinion.
    I may have to take Powell out of the team and put in the impressive Heaslip. This weekend whilst Heaslip came off the bench for Ireland to grab a try, Powell was struggling to make an impact against Italy, and at one point even ran the ball into touch from a dash in his own 22. Heaslip is a more solid choice at No. 8.
    Bowe is quick and large for a winger and will combine well with Brian O’Driscoll, Sackey’s pace is impressive but question marks reamin over his defence and positioning, plus he is injured at the moment.
    Henson is one i may have to change, although on top form he is great, he didn’t do much to undo Italy and throws his toys out of the pram too much, like he did after arguing with Ryan Jones over tactics at the end of the game in Rome, where he was annoyed at Jones’ insistence to keep going for points instead of ending the game. Flutey has done his chances no harm against France, and i would be tempted to put him in with BOD, but at the expense of Shaklin, Tindall and Roberts, it may be difficult.
    It seems the squad will be tightly contested come the summer!

    Comment by jdickenson100 | March 15, 2009 | Reply

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