And so it came to pass, much to the discomfort of Ian McGeechan, that almost half of the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer's Test series in South Africa were chosen to risk life and limb on Heineken Cup semi-final weekend, generally considered the most extreme physical test of a player outside of a front-line international match.
It could have been worse for the Lions, but Tomas O'Leary of Munster is already crocked and off the tour, while Rob Kearney of Leinster is suffering from mumps. Just the 17, then. In truth, McGeechan knew this weekend's injury risk factor would be unusually high once Leinster and Cardiff Blues, both of whom might easily have lost their quarter-finals, made it into the last four by the last remaining layer of tooth skin.
A Munster-Harlequins, Toulouse-Leicester arrangement would have been far more to his liking. As it is, this evening's all-Irish rumble in Dublin between Paul O'Connell's Munster and Leinster, home to the wondrous Brian O'Driscoll, is the talk of the island. Munster are short-odds favourites again, but it would be just like O'Driscoll to pull a rabbit out of the hat in response to being beaten to the Lions captaincy by O'Connell. If internal affairs were all-consuming in Ireland, much of the talk in England and Wales surrounded Leicester's selection for tomorrow's tie with the Blues in Cardiff. Richard Cockerill took the bold decision to leave five top-drawer internationals – centre Aaron Mauger, scrum-half Harry Ellis, hooker Benjamin Kayser and two England forwards, Julian White and Lewis Moody – on the bench. If the Tigers win, he will look like a genius. If they lose...
Cockerill's most delicate call was in the 10-12 area, where three players – the accomplished Mauger, the current England outside-half Toby Flood and the uncapped Sam Vesty – were chasing two positions. The decision to omit Mauger said everything that needed saying about the coach's respect for Vesty, who compensates for a lack of straight-line speed with sound technique and a faultless attitude.
The Blues have taken no obvious chances in selection. Five of their six Lions – the wing Leigh Halfpenny, the centres Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts, the prop Gethin Jenkins and the flanker Martyn Williams – are in the run-on team, with Andy Powell among the replacements.Reuse content