The Lions’ Test XV remains a mystery as Ian McGeechan hopes to give all his players an opportunity in the build up to the 20 June opener.
Saturday’s fixture in Rustenburg marks the first of 10-tour matches and the first of six matches ahead of the Lions’ first Test in Durban. Contrary to popular belief, the starting XV for the King’s Park clash is yet to be decided, and this why McGeechan and company are looking to experiment in the opening bouts against provincial opposition.
‘I told my players they will all get an opportunity to play themselves into the Test side,’ said McGeechan. ‘I will not pick my team until the week of the Test because we’d like to try out and develop a few combinations before then.’
Since the initial squad announcement the Lions have lost a number of big-name players to injury. There were some concerns over the weekend after a tough European Cup final, but McGeechan said players like Brian O’Driscoll will be available for the opening Lions game against the Royal XV on 30 May.
‘We’ll have to manage the players that played in the Heineken Cup game over the weekend, but I’ve spoken to the medical team and the response was positive.
‘We aimed to come here with 36 fit players, and we’ve achieved that. It’s a huge relief after the big game over the weekend. It’s great to have those players back with us.’
McGeechan said it was necessary to experiment in these opening games as by 20 June he wants to be confident that the team fronting the Boks is the best available. As the combinations develop the coaches will decide on game strategy and begin plotting the demise of the Springboks.
‘The thing about the Lions is it brings players together who don’t normally play alongside each other,’ he said. ‘You have to give them opportunities and that’s what we plan to do in these provincial games. As coaches, we have to keep an open mind.
‘We have to work together towards the way we want to play. We want to have the platform – and here I’m not talking about scrums and lineouts – or structure that best showcase our talent, and we want to do it without complication.’
The Lions face another make-up team in the Royal XV this weekend. Super 14 regulars like Naas Olivier and Sarel Pretorius have been roped into this fixture, but McGeechan said the personnel of this particular side does not concern him.
‘This Saturday we’ll look to get together as a brand new team – Rustenburg is the true start of the tour. Saturday is very much about looking at our own game. These games are very important in this respect.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg