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Test Side Taking Shape

11th June 2009 By Munster Rugby

Test Side Taking Shape

Four games played and while the jury may still be out on how this Lions squad will cope with the Boks in the Tests, the verdict is already in on who will be the backbone of Ian McGeechan’s side for Saturday week.

And the good news is that there could be anything up to eight Irish players in the starting line up for the first Test in Durban.

At this stage there is no doubt that Brian O’Driscoll, currently playing the best rugby of his life, will wear the number 13 jersey while Paul O’Connell will obviously lead the side with Munster colleague David Wallace at seven and their Irish teammate Jamie Heaslip anchoring the scrum.

Ronan O’Gara did his chances of claiming the Test spot a power of good with his performance against the Sharks last night as did Luke Fitzgerald while Tommy Bowe must be entertaining high hopes of being handed the 14 jersey.

Donncha O’Callaghan will have the opportunity on Saturday to stake his claim to partner O’Connell and at this stage we have seen nothing from anyone else to suggest that he wont be in the match day 22. With Lee Byrne in such good form, Rob Kearney like Keith Earls,  may have to sit and watch and as is the case with O’Driscoll, Roberts, O’Connell, Wallace and Heaslip, Mike Phillips is another who is already pencilled into that first Test side.

One of the two issues to do with this tour that seem to be grabbing the headlines in South Africa is the poor crowds thus far that have come to watch the games. There were 12,000 for the opener at the 38,000 capacity Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg (mind you the same day as the Super 14 Final in Pretoria); 22,000 packed into the 60,000 Ellis Park and just 23,000 (Vodacom Park, 48,000) for the best game so far against The Cheetahs.

One of the reasons offered for the apathy is the fact that none of the sides havs had their Springbok players available and the other is that ticket prices are considered far too high.

The other issue centres around remarks by Lions legend Willie John McBride who is reported to have offered the opinion that Paul O’Connell will show Victor Matfield who’s boss in the line-outs.

According to Mike Greenaway in The Star (Durban) Matfield’s was less than amused responding, “O’Connell is a very good captain and lock but I also hear he has had a lot to say to other South African locks when Bakkies (Botha) and I haven’t been around, so we’ll wait and see if he has something to say to us.

“It’s good for Willie to back his player (and fellow Irishman),” Matfield continued, ” but we’ll have to see, after what promises to be a very good battle, who is bossing who around.”

Then when Matfield’s buddy Bakkies Botha arrived and was appraised of the issue he said, “”As far as I can recall – and I’ve played a lot of rugby with Victor – I don’t remember anybody bossing him around,”

We’ll go into battle together in what is going to be a very tough series and we’ll boss each other around! We’re going to have to be brutal up front – I love it!”


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