x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Lions pride at full strength

The British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan has a full squad to choose from ahead of their opening tour match against a Royal XV.

The British and Irish Lions have launched their tour preparations in South Africa ahead of next Saturday's opener against a Royal XV and reported a clean bill of health. The build-up to the tour was seriously affected by a number of withdrawals, with Tomas O'Leary, Tom Shanklin and Jerry Flannery among those forced to pull out. The Lions also lost the Munster flanker Alan Quinlan through suspension, while the Welsh winger Leigh Halfpenny has remained in Cardiff for intensive treatment on a thigh injury with the hope he can fly to South Africa early next month. So the head coach Ian McGeechan would have been a relieved man after seeing his entire squad go through their paces in Johannesburg trouble-free. Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, who suffered a shoulder injury scare during Leinster's Heineken Cup final victory over Leicester in Edinburgh three days ago, was among those who took a full part in training. He showed no ill effects from the injury as McGeechan continued the build-up for Saturday's first game in Rustenburg. Lions assistant coach, Wales boss Warren Gatland, confirmed the feel-good factor among a squad seeking to emulate the 1997 Test series triumph against world champions South Africa. Gatland said: "I think we are lot further forward than we expected after the first week we had together in England. "The players have picked up the calls and things really quickly. "Playing against South Africa is always tough. We have got to be accurate against them for 80 minutes ? they have won the World Cup twice and they are always incredibly motivated to perform well." *PA Sport