Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Lions set to name touring squad

At lunchtime tomorrow in a Heathrow hotel, Lions coach Ian McGeechan will put us out of our misery when he announces his 35-man squad to tour South Africa.

It may have been a wonderful Six Nations for Ireland but it was a less-than-vintage tournament and South Africa will not have been overly concerned with the what they witnessed in February and March. However, the Lions’ situation is not as grim as all that. They have genuine quality to call on and in McGeechan and his primary henchmen Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards, the right backroom team to get the most out of the players.

McGeechan is a grounded individual who looked on bemused as Clive Woodward made an over-choreographed horlicks of the 2005 tour to New Zealand.

South Africa have learnt from their mistakes in 1997 when an unheralded Lions outfit mugged them 2-1 with an astute gameplan conceived by McGeechan and his trusty sidekick Jim Telfer. Two of the Tests will be played at altitude to provide the home side with maximum advantage.

New Zealand remains the toughest touring destination but South Africa is only marginally behind.

A Lions success would rank among their greatest achievements and, as the bookies maintain, they travel more in hope than expectation. There are likely to be a few curveballs thrown in our direction tomorrow and there is the possibility of players who are not playing internationally making the plane.

McGeechan, Edwards and Gatland are all well acquainted with the Wasps set-up and this heightens the chances of Danny Cipriani, Josh Lewsey and James Haskell (who lost his England place to Tom Croft). However, McGeechan would be better served placing his faith in Munster — the outstanding team in Europe this season which brings Keith Earls and Alan Quinlan into the equation.

As well as tour bolters, Munster should also provide McGeechan with his tour captain. Declan Kidney got the most out of Brian O’Driscoll in the Six Nations but McGeechan’s preference for a forward leader points to Paul O’Connell and, once the Scot is convinced going with the second-row will not adversely affect his star centre, the Munster man looks to be the correct choice.

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