Rugby Union: Parallel Lions for South Africa

Jonathan Davies, the Welsh stand-off, nominates his Test team of the moment
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So Far, the Five Nations games have provided more questions than answers for the Lions selectors and they must be hoping that the Ireland- England, France-Wales matches on Saturday will bring more clarity to a confused scene.

A few months ago it was said that the Lions wouldn't be put off if players they fancied were not selected for their national teams. But what chance have players had to impress recently unless they've been in the Five Nations'?

Apart from the final rounds of the Heineken European Cup and the domestic cups there has been little meaningful club rugby this year. For instance, before yesterday I'd played in only two games in five weeks of 1997 - a semi-final against Brive and a fourth-round Swalec Cup tie at Newport. I've also appeared as a replacement for Wales for a total of four minutes in two games.

So, I've not had much opportunity to prove that I'm not too old to be a Lion. There are plenty of others who've starved for want of a chance. Their only consolation is that many of those fortunate enough to have played in the Five Nations have so far failed to press their claims.

For instance, I was sure that Gregor Townsend would establish himself as the prime outside-half in Britain. But at Twick- enham last weekend he only had limited possession and didn't have the opportunity to show he can control the game. And if he isn't in at No 10, he is going to put pressure on the already difficult task of selecting the centres.

But let's start our evaluation from the front row. On the evidence so far, the English props, Graham Rowntree and Jason Leonard, will be in the squad. David Young of Wales has to go along and the Irish props, Nick Popplewell and Paul Wallace, have to come into the reckoning. Keith Wood of Ireland, Mark Regan and Jonathan Humphreys should form the hooker department, although some rivalry could come from Wales's Garin Jenkins or Barrie Williams.

Although Martin Johnson struggled against Brive, he is sure of one of the locks places along with his English team-mate, Simon Shaw. Ireland's Jeremy Davidson has earned a place and I would also take Gareth Llewellyn and Doddie Weir.

The back-row is a pig of a decision. Open-side Richard Hill played very well against the Scots but Neil Back has a shout and I think Colin Charvis has looked very convincing for Wales. Gwyn Jones and Ian Smith, unfortunately, haven't had much chance to impress.

On the blind-side, Lawrence Dallaglio has very sound claims, but so do David Corkery and Rob Wainwright. Scott Quinnell is a must No 8, but if Ireland's Eric Miller can oust Dean Richards at Leicester, he has to come into consideration. Miller, however, will come up against the other strong candidate, Tim Rodber, on Saturday.

This tour is going to be highly pressurised, with no easy games, and I would favour experience and pace before any other qualities, especially among the backs. Robert Howley is the undisputed No 1 scrum-half, but I wouldn't be surprised if they picked Robert Jones as one of his back- ups. You can't have too many old heads. As the reigning England scrum- half, Andy Gomarsall has a strong claim to go, but Scotland have Bryan Redpath and Gary Armstrong on offer.

No one has established an unanswerable claim at outside-half, and it has fast become a berth for utility players who can do excellent jobs elsewhere. Neil Jenkins, Townsend and Mike Catt come under this category - as does one other I could mention. Much will depend how Paul Grayson fares on Saturday. They have to take at least three specialist kickers.

We are not overflowing with automatic choices on the wings, and I hope that Ieuan Evans is able to go. Jon Sleightholme, Tony Underwood, Gareth Thomas and Simon Geoghegan should compete for the other place. The centres offer bigger selection problems. Will Carling had a storming game against Scotland but is threatening to stay home. Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman have to go and how do you leave out Jeremy Guscott, who has been in the same boat as me for lack of games? Jim Staples, Tim Stimpson and Nick Beal are candidates for full-back which is also well covered by Jenkins. As for captaincy, I haven't a clue. So much depends on events still to happen but if I had to pick a Lions team to play today, and I was debarred from playing myself, it would be something like the one above.

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