The British and Irish Lions will face world champions South Africa in Saturday’s opening rugby Test — and they enter the Durban clash full of confidence after winning all their six tour games so far.
The Lions — a touring representative side featuring the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales — only come together every four years and they tour New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in strict rotation. Who are the British Lions This year, South Africa, who became world champions by defeating England in the 2007 final in Paris, play host to the Lions in three Test matches that are likely to be played at an intense and passionate level. The Lions have a 100 per cent record in their pre-Test tour matches and Englishman Tom Croft, who was not even included in the original 36-strong squad, has been rewarded for his performances with a place in the starting XV. Lions head coach Ian McGeechan pulled no late selection surprises for the match, with Croft to start at blindside flanker. David Wallace held off the challenge from Martyn Williams to claim the open-side berth with his Ireland colleague Jamie Heaslip completing a back row combination with proven success so far on the tour. Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll have also struck up an effective midfield partnership while McGeechan has opted for Welsh pair Stephen Jones and Mike Phillips in the half-backs. Alun-Wyn Jones won the race to start alongside captain Paul O’Connell in the second row with Phil Vickery and Gethin Jenkins to prop alongside England hooker Lee Mears.
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There were two notable omissions from the match 22 with no place on the bench for winger Shane Williams, the 2008 world player of the year, and England prop Andrew Sheridan. Wales’ Adam Jones has been named as the replacement prop with Rob Kearney covering the back three. Leicester flanker Croft was described by Lions forwards coach Warren Gatland as the unluckiest player to miss out on the initial squad.
The Lions coaching staff had initially preferred the abrasive nature of Munster flanker Alan Quinlan. But Croft received a call-up after Quinlan was ruled out of the tour through suspension and he has taken his chance with a series of impressive performances.