The British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan said places in next week's first Test match against South Africa are still up for grabs.
McGeechan: you can still impress me
The British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan said places in next week's first Test match against South Africa are still up for grabs after naming the starting XV to face Western Province today. The full-back Rob Kearney, wings Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye, fly-half Stephen Jones, tighthead prop Phil Vickery and lock Nathan Hines, who all impressed in the demolition of the Golden Lions last week, will all get another chance to seal a place in the side to play the Springboks in Durban next Saturday.
"Test places are still open and I don't want easy decisions next week," McGeechan said. "I'd like to sit down on Tuesday night to choose the Test team and have some really tough calls to make. So I'd think the players would want to try to get everything out on to the pitch against Western Province." Two players certain to miss the Tests are the Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris and Welsh wing Leigh Halfpenny, who were ruled out of the tour during the week with knee and thigh injuries.
The Lions' final match before the first Test is against the Southern Kings Coastal XV in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday. McGeechan said that players who turn out in that match could still be asked to double-up and play in the first Test the following Saturday. "We've tried to mix and match the Wednesday and Saturday teams and I would like to see a good Saturday performance," he said. "I need to give every player a proper opportunity and it will take six games to do that. It's the shortest build-up to the Tests ever on a Lions tour, but that's the challenge you face and it would be a greater risk not to give everyone a chance. I'm not prepared to let the players down in that regard."
The team to play Western Province will be led by Vickery, a 2003 World Cup-winner. "He's an experienced player, he has captained England and he was a British Lion in 2001," said McGeechan. "He's one of the leaders in the party, a very proud Lion and he deserves the honour of leading the side out." * Reuters