x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Croft earns Lions start

Tom Croft completes his rise from Lions outcast to Test starter after he is named in the side to play South Africa in Durban.

Tom Croft passes the ball during a training session ahead of the first Test against South Africa on Saturday.
Tom Croft passes the ball during a training session ahead of the first Test against South Africa on Saturday.

Tom Croft completed his rapid rise from Lions outcast to Test starter after being named in the side to play South Africa in Durban on Saturday. The Lions head coach Ian McGeechan pulled no late selection surprises for his starting XV for the first Test, with Croft to start against the world champions at blindside flanker. David Wallace held off the challenge from Martyn Williams to claim the open-side berth with his Ireland colleague Jamie Heaslip completing a back row combination with proven success on tour. Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll have also struck up an effective midfield partnership while McGeechan has opted for Welsh pair Stephen Jones and Mike Phillips in the half-backs. Alun-Wyn Jones won the race to start alongside captain Paul O'Connell in the second row with Phil Vickery and Gethin Jenkins to prop alongside England hooker Lee Mears. There were two notable omissions from the match 22 with no place on the bench for winger Shane Williams, the 2008 world player of the year, and England prop Andrew Sheridan. Wales' Adam Jones has been named as the replacement prop with Rob Kearney covering the back three. McGeechan explained form and successful combinations underpinned the selection for Saturday's first Test. "The Test team has been picked on form following the six provincial matches. There were some very difficult calls to make as the players as a group and individually have done everything that we have asked of them and performed on the field," said McGeechan. "It has been 20 years since a Lions team has won all of its provincial matches leading up to the Test series so it is very satisfying to be in such a position. "The entire squad and the management have worked hard to create an outstanding team environment. Everyone has done this very professionally and it is fair to say that I would not change anything that we have done so far." Ireland prop John Hayes has been called up into the British & Irish Lions squad for the remainder of their South Africa tour. Grand Slam winner Hayes replaces Scotland tighthead Euan Murray, who suffered a tour-ending ankle injury during the victory over Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday. Hayes, who has won 94 caps, toured with the 2005 Lions to New Zealand, playing in four provincial matches. He is expected to link up with the squad in Durban this weekend.

*PA Sport