CAPE TOWN// The British & Irish Lions will aim to get back to winning ways with a tough game against the Emerging Springboks at Newlands tonight. Their opponents are South Africa's development side and are expected to provide the Lions' most difficult examination outside of the Tests. Nine of the South African side have already faced the tourists this summer, while the other six play for the Blue Bulls, the Super 14 champions.
Fly-half Earl Rose was in South Africa's original squad for the Test series and full-back Zane Kirchner is rated by many as the best player in his position in the country. For Lions head coach Ian McGeechan, the match represents the perfect opportunity to get back on track following Saturday's 26-21 reverse in the first Test. "It is always important if you have had a defeat to be able to come back well," the Scot said. "There were so many positives to take out of Saturday. The big disappointment was not taking those opportunities.
"This is a chance to look at some players with a view to the combinations we might put together in the second Test." McGeechan, a veteran of seven Lions tours, said the atmosphere on this trip was the best he had ever known. "This last two weeks will be when you see the real benefits of that. There is no doubt we will stay positive. The Test players were out there giving everything in training today, so that Tuesday's side can make sure they do as well as possible."
McGeechan, who agreed that the Emerging Boks would provide the stiffest opposition outside of the Tests, will name his side for the second Test tomorrow. Of the side playing against the Emerging Boks, wingers Shane Williams and Luke Fitzgerald and flanker Martyn Williams all have a realistic chance of claiming a Test spot. Williams, who came on as a second-half replacement for David Wallace last Saturday in Durban, said: "I would love to start the next Test, but a lot will depend on what combination Geech opts in the back row." The Welshman added: "The Emerging Boks have got some very good players and we are well aware of how good they will be.
"We've faced a lot of them before on this tour and they will be out to prove a point to the Springbok selectors." Ronan O'Gara has been selected to captain the Lions today but is unlikely to dislodge Stephen Jones from the Test team. McGeechan explained why he had opted to make the fly-half his fifth skipper of the tour. "It's the last midweek game and it's his third Lions tour," he said. "It's recognition of the time Ronan has been involved in Lions rugby.
"It's a great honour being captain of the Lions and I think he deserves it." The Emerging Boks are coached by former South Africa centre Dick Muir and captained by former Bulls flanker Dewald Potgieter. "There is huge potential through the side and if the conditions allow it, we will certainly move the ball around," said Muir, who is also backs coach for the senior side. "Ideally we would like a hard, firm pitch and I think we will compare very favourably with the Southern Kings, although we don't have as much experience."
And he singled out Kirchner for special praise. "Zane is unlucky not to be in the Springboks' 28, but he is a young guy with a big future ahead of him," he said. "He is a player who has stood out for me and he has a great range of skills. It is probably too late for any of the side to make the second Test, but the third next week is a different matter." firstname.lastname@example.org