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28 May 2009 13:33
Ian McGeechan has packed his British and Irish Lions side with plenty of experience for the opening game of their 10 match tour in South Africa against a Royal XV in Phokeng on Saturday.
Tour captain Paul O’Connell will lead a team that shows eight players with previous Lions experience in the 22.
Joining the Irishman on duty will be IRB Player of the Year for 2008 Shane Williams; Irish points machine Ronan O’Gara, two more triple Lions tourists in Simon Shaw and Martyn Williams, ex-England skipper Phil Vickery, England prop Andrew Sheridan and Wales stand-off Stephen Jones.
“I think it is really exciting that we have a lot of players making their debuts.
I remember my debut against Western Transvaal at Potchefstroom in 1974 and it is a career highlight,” said Lions head coach McGeechan.
“For young men such as Keith Earls and Jamie Roberts it will be a day to remember and they will be thrilled to get an early taste of match action on the tour.
“Outside these guys is the proven experienced combination of the Ospreys’ back three of Byrne, Bowe and Shane Williams.
“While we have a lot of players making their Lions debuts there is a huge amount of international experience in the team.
“On Saturday, we have in the team Martyn Williams, Ronan O’Gara and Simon Shaw who are on their third Lions’ tour. They know exactly what is in store in terms of the provincial matches.
“Scottish captain Mike Blair is at scrum half while players of the calibre of Paul O’Connell, Joe Worsley and Adam Jones have played over 50 Tests each.
“Following excellent preparation and a period of acclimatisation in South Africa I know the lads are raring to go on Saturday against the Royal XV and will be anxious to get the tour off to the best possible start.”
Lions tour manager Gerald Davies also made his Lions debut in South Africa back in 1968 and he added that everyone was raring to go.
“After all the preparation the match against the Royal XV on Saturday marks the start of the 2009 tour. Everyone in the tour party is looking forward to getting the playing part of the tour under way,” said Davies.—Sapa, AFP
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