Edwards wary of upcoming Lions opponents

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Shaun Edwards expects the British and Irish Lions' next tour opponents to be at their "absolute premium" on Wednesday night.

The Golden Lions face an uphill task at Ellis Park after a troubled build-up.

Coach Eugene Eloff was sacked last week, while rumours abound of possible high-profile player departures.

But Lions assistant coach Edwards believes the Super 14 outfit will put aside any off-pitch problems.

"An apparent anarchy can be a real unifier, so we are expecting them to be at their absolute premium," he said.

"I've seen their games. They've pushed a lot of Super 14 teams close, a lot of very good teams close, and they seem to have found some form late on in the season.

"We talk about how special it is for our players - think how it is for them.

"For us, it's (a Lions tour) every four years - for them, once every 12 years. So they won't be thinking about what is going on off the field.

"They've got some very important ball-carriers, both wings are very powerful and the half-backs are a huge threat as well.

"They are a team who love to play rugby, and they've come out and said they want to run it as much possible, so it should be an entertaining game."

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan is set to make wholesale, pre-planned changes when he announces his side today.

Players like Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, Wales prop Gethin Jenkins, Scotland tighthead Euan Murray and England wing Ugo Monye could all make their tour bows.

And the Lions will seek a vastly-improved display on the one they produced against an unheralded Royal XV in Rustenburg, winning 37-25 after trailing by 12 points with only 14 minutes remaining.

Ireland back Keith Earls looks likely to be the only player unavailable for selection after he suffered a shoulder injury on Saturday.

Joining Earls in the wars were scrum-half Mike Blair (ankle) and centre Riki Flutey, who missed training yesterday because of a slight strain, while skipper Paul O'Connell required anaesthetic drops to an eye abrasion.

Elsewhere, fly-half Ronan O'Gara took a bang on his shoulder, Mike Phillips is progressing well from a dead leg, prop Andrew Sheridan has blisters on his feet and wing Luke Fitzgerald is recovering from a minor knee strain.

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is now fit after suffering a mild leg muscle strain getting off the team bus last week, and Wales number eight Andy Powell was back in weights training yesterday after picking up a hand injury that denied him a starting place against the Royal XV.

Team doctor James Robson described the current injury situation as "better than usual" for a Lions tour. He is on his fifth successive Lions trip.

And the tourists remain hopeful Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny will soon link up with the squad in South Africa.

Halfpenny stayed at home when the Lions flew out last Sunday in order to have intensive treatment on a thigh injury.

Robson said: "Leigh is doing very well, by all accounts.

"He did a very good kicking session on Friday, he had a day off on Saturday and he is now going to repeat his kicking and place-kicking session."

If 20-year-old Halfpenny stays on his current course back to fitness, it is possible he could arrive at the Lions' base by midweek.