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Ronan O'Gara pictured training in Bishops School Cape Town with Mike Phillips & James Hook
Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Very Few Areas Left To Debate
6 June 2009, 7:10 pm
By Chris Byrne
Whatever the insistence to the contrary, the Test side to play the Boks will already have been decided ahead of the game today in Port Elizabeth.
Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Lee Mears, Paul O'Connell, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip will all start against the Boks and the other gaps are probably already decided even though McGeechan insists that today's game will have a bearing on his selection. It may well do, but only perhaps only in the context of who will fill the numbers 16-22 next Saturday.

The areas of most debate for the Lions management ahead of them finalising their starting Test XV for Saturday were likely centred on numbers 3, 4, 6, 10 and 11.

In terms of the close calls, the left wing contenders are Ugo Moyne, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney if he is ok after sustaining a dead leg against Western Province. Of that trio Moyne is probably favourite and his selection on the bench today with Fitzgerald starting would indicate he'll start on Saturday unless of course the need for Kearney's dependability under the high ball and booming left boot are deemed more worthy. In a Moyne versus Fitzgerald call, the Irishman who is the better all round player and has more international experience even though he's five years younger, could be the better option. Phil Vickery will vie with Euan Murray for the tight head prop position and should get it unless 'Geech' decides that there really should be a Scot in the line up while the loss of Stephen Ferris and the absence of suspended Alan Quinlan may not be fully appreciated until Saturday. Ferris in particular was having a great tour displaying the type of Quinlan in-yer-face abrasiveness that will be lacking now that injury has forced him home.

The two big talking points will be who will play in the pivotal ten position and who will be alongside Paul O'Connell. The favourite to partner the skipper seems to be the Welshman Alun-Wyn Jones ahead of Donncha O'Callaghan, Nathan Hines and Simon Shaw. At almost 37 years of age Shaw's contribution at best may be from the bench while O'Callaghan on the evidence of his display against Western Province - unerring jumping at number 2 in the lineout, always first to the breakdown - versus Jones against the inferior Sharks thre days earlier should have had him in the frame for Saturday.

However with O'Callaghan selected to lead the Lions today, the influence of the the Welsh jury - Welsh national coach Warren Gatland, his Welsh assistant Shaun Edwards, Gerald Davies (manager) and backs coach Rob Howley - looks to have held sway. O'Callaghan's best bet for Saturday looks to be a place on the bench but that may go to Edwards' Wasps charge Simon Shaw.

And then to the question of who will pull the strings, Ronan O'Gara or Stephen Jones ? And once again if they go on most recent performances, Jones against Western Province versus O'Gara against the Sharks, then O'Gara will partner Mike Phillips. That night in the ABSA in Durban, he kicked well out of hand, (never mind what Stuart Barnes had to say on Sky), from the tee, moved his backline well and his defence was good.

But maybe the key to this one is again back in March in Cardiff in the white heat of the closing stages of that title decider.

In the 75th minute Jones dropped a goal for a 15-14 lead that would have won his side the Triple Crown while denying Ireland the Grand Slam.

Moments later, Wales under pressure, got the ball back to Jones in his own 22. He thumped the ball long and into touch, forgetting it had been passed to him from just outside the 22 and, under the then ELV's, meant a lineout to Ireland from where he kicked it. Deep inside his 22.

Would O'Gara have made that mistake ? Not a chance.

And then, after O'Gara had dropped that sublime goal to reclaim the lead, Jones was presented with a final opportunity to win the game. His penalty effort was a mighty and a worthy one but it fell short.

Had the roles been reversed would O'Gara have nailed it ?

Chalk it down he would.

Lions:

15. Lee Byrne

14. Tommy Bowe

13. Brian O'Driscoll

12. Jamie Roberts

11. Luke Fitzgerald

10. Ronan O'Gara

9. Mike Phillips

1. Gethin Jenkins

2. Lee Mears

3. Phil Vickery

4. Alun-Wyn Jones

5. Paul O'Connell capt

6. Tom Croft

7. David Wallace

8. Jamie Heaslip

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