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Four Irish In Lions Starting XV ?
6 June 2005, 11:48 am
Shane Byrne must start on Saturday. Simply put, Thompson couldn t be relied on to hit the proverbial barn-door and if you can t find your jumpers you re going nowhere against the Blacks
Brian O Driscoll, Paul O Connell, Shane Byrne and Shane Horgan should all be in Lions red for the first Test when Clive Woodward announces his side on Wednesday.

The first two are a gimme for the starting XV while Byrne must start if the Lions line-out is to function properly and Horgan might even be the surprise choice as centre partner for O Driscoll.

Before the tour began, it was generally thought that Gavin Henson would be wearing the 12 come Test time with Gordon D Arcy his nearest challenger. After D Arcy s challenge faded and then died against Otago, there was widespread shock when Henson was dispatched to the southern reaches of the south island for the Tuesday game prior to the first Test.

That left pundits suggesting that either Jonny Wilkinson or Will Greenwood would occupy the number 12 berth. With all due respects to Greenwood, how anyone could put him in red 12 against the All Blacks defies logic.

Right up to the Otago game his form was on a par with or below some of those banished to Invercargill. In that Otago match, when Hodgson floated over the kick for the crucial score, Greenwood made no attempt whatsoever to contest the ball in the air, instead allowing it to bounce and then profiting from the luckiest bounce ever. He looked almost as surprised as the two Otago defenders to find the ball in his hands.

His supporters in the British media now talk of his defence, his ability to off-load in the tackle, but in neither department could he hope to live with Shane Horgan.

So, if Woodward doesn t opt to use Wilkinson at inside centre, he has a ready-made partner for O Driscoll in Horgan. If Wilkinson gets the 12 slot then Horgan has to be on the bench as centre/wing although he would also be a better wing option than Jason Robinson (as would Geordan Murphy).

Given there is no debate about the two O s, (Kay to partner the O C ?) the only area of debate involving an Irish player is in the front row and Shane Byrne has to get the nod over the pre-flight Woodward favourite, Steve Thompson.

Simply put, Thompson couldn t be relied on to hit the proverbial barn-door and if you can t find your jumpers you re going nowhere against any top flight side.

The line-out is an area the Lions management see as one of their great strengths and, righly or wrongly, an area of All-Black weakness.

Byrne s throwing has been, by and large right, on the money so far and while he may not command the physical presence Thompson does, there has been nothing wrong with his round the field play.

Selection for 'this ordinary lad from Aughrim' as he terms himself, represents one of the great good-news stories of rugby and makes the media tales of his having left home still wrangling with the IRFU over his contract quite extraordinary.

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