Captaincy is bittersweet honour for O'Callaghan

Ireland lock will lead Lions in last warm-up knowing it all but rules him out of first Test
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The Independent Online

Donncha O'Callaghan was probably caught with mixed emotions yesterday after he was named as captain of the British and Irish Lions for their final warm-up match against the Southern Kings Coastal this afternoon.

The Irishman (below) was undoubtedly one proud lock after being given the armband but those named in the side for today's match in Port Elizabeth will think it has diminished rather markedly their chances of running out against South Africa in the first Test on Saturday. O'Callaghan, along with several others in the side, played in Saturday's 26-23 win over Western Province and it is generally accepted that three games in a week is too much.

Not according to the coach Ian McGeechan, though, who said yesterday that the 22 players in action today would still be in the reckoning for Saturday. The Lions team will be announced on Thursday.

"It might require a very narrow turnaround, but I have always said that we will need all six of these tour matches to establish our team and the type of game we should play in the Test series, and nothing has changed," McGeechan said.

The Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair has been named in the starting line-up despite uncertainty over his fitness following an ankle injury. "We will give Mike Blair a fitness test [this] morning but I think he will be OK," McGeechan added.

The centres Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts, fly-half Stephen Jones and lock Paul O'Connell are among the telling absentees from today's team, suggesting their form on tour will be rewarded with a Test place. The Irishman Gordon D'Arcy, who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 2005 and was a late call-up into this year's squad, will make his first start of the tour, in the No 12 jersey.

"This is a great position for everyone going out [today]," O'Callaghan said. "It is a chance to force the coaches' hands with a huge performance, and that's a great way for everyone to feel. This is the biggest honour of my life, I was taken aback when 'Geech' told me. It's huge."