Croft handed Lions Test start

Tom Croft completed his rapid rise from Lions outcast to Test starter after being named in the side to play South Africa in Durban on Saturday.

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan pulled no late selection surprises for his starting XV for the first Test, with Croft to start against the world champions 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 on 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.



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.

McGeechan explained form and successful combinations underpinned the selection for Saturday's first Test.

"The Test team has been picked on form following the six provincial matches. There were some very difficult calls to make as the players as a group and individually have done everything that we have asked of them and performed on the field," said McGeechan.



"It has been 20 years since a Lions team has won all of its provincial matches leading up to the Test series so it is very satisfying to be in such a position.



"The entire squad and the management have worked hard to create an outstanding team environment. Everyone has done this very professionally and it is fair to say that I would not change anything that we have done so far."



Donncha O'Callaghan, who captained the Lions against the Southern Kings in midweek, Matthew Rees, Harry Ellis and Ronan O'Gara completed the replacement bench.



Scotland prop Euan Murray was unavailable for selection with an ankle injury, which, McGeechan confirmed, has ruled him out of the tour.



James Hook was also not considered after suffering a blow to the head against the Southern Kings this week but the Wales fly-half is expected to be available to face the Emerging Springboks on Tuesday.

Croft, the Leicester flanker, was described by Lions forwards coach Warren Gatland as the unluckiest player to miss out on selection for 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.



Croft brings pace and dynamism around the park but he also offers a lineout agility that will be key if the Lions are to match the established Springbok duo of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.







British and Irish Lions team to play South Africa in the first Test in Durban on Saturday:

L Byrne (Wales and Ospreys); T Bowe (Ireland and Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Ireland and Leinster), J Roberts (Wales and Cardiff Blues), U Monye (England and Harlequins); S Jones (Wales and Scarlets), M Phillips (Wales and Ospreys); G Jenkins (Wales and Cardiff Blues), L Mears (England and Bath), P Vickery (England and Wasps), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales and Ospreys), P O'Connell (Ireland and Munster, capt), T Croft (England and Leicester), D Wallace (Ireland and Munster), J Heaslip (Ireland and Leinster).



Replacements: M Rees (Wales and Scarlets), A Jones (Wales and Ospreys), D O'Callaghan (Ireland and Munster), M Williams (Wales and Cardiff Blues), H Ellis (England and Leicester), R O'Gara (Ireland and Munster), R Kearney (Ireland and Leinster).

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