Vic backs Irish duo

Victor Matfield believes Ian McGeechan will select the Irish lock pairing for the Lions Tests in June.

Barring injury, captain Paul O’Connell is certain of playing, with either countryman Donncha O’Callaghan, Alun-Wyn Jones, Simon Shaw or Nathan Hines locking the scrum alongside him.

Jones and O’Callaghan are viewed as the likely options due to their prowess in the air, while Matfield believes the latter will be the front-runner at the start of the tour due to his familiarity with his Munster team-mate. That Irish and Munster hooker Jerry Flannery is the favourite for the No 2 jersey, further validates Matfield’s view.

‘I think they’ll definitely go with the Irish pairing,’ Matfield told ‘They know each other and they’ve been awesome for Ireland for a while now. They complement each other’s styles really well.’

Matfield also didn’t discard the surprise selection of 36-year-old Simon Shaw for the squad. Matfield said Shaw has made it a habit of performing on the biggest stage.

‘I think he did a very good job for England in the World Cup in 2007,’ said Matfield. ‘He’s very much a Bakkies [Botha] type of lock. I think he’s very physical, he’s a big guy who really gets stuck into mauls and rucks, not a bad selection at all. But if he’s still got the legs, I don’t know.’

The Lions haven’t selected many lineout specialists, preferring for the enforcer option, and for this reason English flanker Tom Croft’s omission was surprising. Matfield believes England’s inconsistent form, as well as Croft not being first-choice on numerous occasions, counted against him.

‘The English players didn’t have a great Six Nations and the Irish and Welsh did the best in the matches that counted. They have the most guys selected and that was down to their form,’ said the Bok lock. 

The Bok scrum had a few hiccups on the year-end tour, but Matfield believes the set-piece wobbles were down to injuries. He said if the Bok front-row that started against Wales of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit starts, the Boks will be able to negotiate the Lions at scrum-time.

Matfield couldn’t highlight which options they would choose in this area.

‘The English props [Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery]  have been strong, while their scrum has always been solid - even if the team hasn’t been great their pack has done well. If you look back at the World Cup, they destroyed a team like Australia and that’s how they got to the final.

‘We all know the Welsh props [Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones], they are probably a bit more mobile and very good with ball in hand. Then you include Euan Murray and they’ve got some interesting options to pick  from for their first choice props.’

By Grant Ball