Byrne: No Welsh bias

The predominantly Wales coaching staff won’t favour their own players for Test starting berths, says Lee Byrne.

The Grand Slam-winning Ireland team had 13 names announced in late April, but injuries and suspensions have meant the Welsh now have the most members with 12 in the touring group. The Irish contingent has dropped to 11.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland is in charge of the forwards while defence guru Shaun Edwards also has an influential behind the scenes role.

Backs coach Rob Howley said he is looking forward to how the Welshmen scrap for Test starting spots in the initial stages of the tour, but the Wales No 15 - and also the front-runner for the Lions fullback spot in his tussle with Rob Kearney - maintained they wouldn’t be favoured.

‘The Wales coaching panel know what we are capable of,’ said Byrne, ‘but they also realise what every other player has to offer. From the start of our camp last Monday I’ve also seen close up what all these players can do, it’s really impressive.’

Existing national combinations are likely to favour certain individuals, but with minimal preparation time club ones are also certain to further credentials for starting berths come 20 June. The Ospreys’ back three in Byrne, Shane Williams and Irishman Tommy Bowe are early favourites to stake a claim for the places.

‘It’s great playing with those two guys at club level. Shane is the IRB Player of the Year and Tommy has been outstanding since joining us from Ulster. But we all realise across the squad there will be some tough tussles for spots.

‘In my case Rob has been in splendid form, while guys like Ugo [Monye] and Luke [Fitzgerald] will be fighting for spots on the wings. Whoever can get those jerseys, I’ll be happy for them, that’s the way our squad works.’

On a personal level, Byrne has been plagued by an ankle injury since the Six Nations decider with Ireland. He has only played one game since, and although this has robbed him of match practice, he is looking forward to game-time in the tour-opener against the Royal XV on Saturday.

‘It [the rest] could be a blessing in disguise,’ he said. ‘It may have come at a bad time, but I feel refreshed. I have done some extra conditioning work and have been sharp in training.

‘I may have been tired if I had played all those games at the back-end of the season. It has been four weeks on the sidelines and now I’m itching to get out there.’

By Grant Ball, in Johannesburg