Quartet get another chance

Four Lions players, including captain Paul O’Connell, will start their second successive match when they face Sharks on Wednesday.

The Irish lock will lead the side once more, with Lee Byrne, Shane Williams and Luke Fitzgerald receiving another chance to prove themselves after the ordinary showing against the Cheetahs.

Williams in particular will need an improved performance. His value in the starting 15 has been questioned by some respected commentators, while he has publicly conceded that he has been well below par over the last couple of months. Ugo Monye’s form compounds the pressure on the IRB Player of the Year.

‘We’re just looking for him to keep his hands on the ball,’ coach Ian McGeechan said, when probed about the areas of improvement he wanted to see in his star winger.

‘In fairness to Shane he’s starting to show that improvement in training and he’ll have another opportunity on Wednesday to show what he can do.’

Fitzgerald will move from the centre to the wing in a back division that sees Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts form the dangerous midfield partnership. At halfback, Mike Phillips and Ronan O’Gara get a chance to forge a combination. Riki Flutey, who suffered a knee injury after being used as a substitute in the tour opener, is on the bench.

McGeechan said he was pleased that inter-positional bonds had been forged naturally, and that that was benefiting the team immensely.

‘Usually you hope that your key combinations, like halfbacks, form a good understanding and assist each other, but that’s starting to happen with players in the same positions now. Our 9s are working really well together, as are our centres. It’s the same in every position. That’s been really important,’ he said.

Loose forwards Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft start for the second time on tour, while Alun-Wyn Jones will partner O’Connell in what is a likely Test second row. Welsh props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones will be joined in the front-row by hooker Lee Mears.

The breakdown was a point of contention against the Cheetahs, with the Lions coaching staff criticising the officiating at that facet of play. McGeechan said it would again be decisive to the outcome of the match at King’s Park, but stressed that they had moved on from their frustration of Saturday.

‘It’s important that we don’t go overboard with the whole breakdown thing,’ he said. ‘We said what we felt was right at the time, and we’ve also focussed on improving our work there by ensuring that we commit more support players.

‘I’ll have a word with the referee prior to the match to see what his interpretation is and we’ll go from there. It’s not a big deal.’

British & Irish Lions – 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Shane Williams, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Phil Vickery, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Riki Flutey, 22 Leigh Halfpenny.