Lions Test side will be 'untried' says McGeechan

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The Independent Online

Head coach Ian McGeechan has revealed he is unlikely to give his British and Irish Lions Test team a trial run before their opening showdown against world champions South Africa.

McGeechan's side to face the Sharks on Wednesday night features probable Test combinations in centres Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts, plus a back row of Tom Croft, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip.

There is also a first chance together for possible Test locks Paul O'Connell and Alun-Wyn Jones, but McGeechan insists the selection race towards Durban on June 20 will be allowed to run its full course.

And that might even mean some Test starters playing part of tomorrow week's Port Elizabeth appointment with the Southern Kings.

"The main thing had been to get everyone playing in those first three games. Now, in the next three games it is to keep looking at some of the combinations," said McGeechan.

"The only other way of doing it is you separate the teams and you say to half the squad 'You are not going to be involved in a Test match,' and I am not prepared to do that.

"We will try to get combinations together but, as a XV, it is unlikely they will play as a XV before the Test match.

"It's got to be about us and what we want to try and be come first Test day. There are some risks, I am aware of that, but I think what we get out of it as a squad far outweighs that.

"As far as I am concerned, we have to be fair to the players and have to construct everything we are doing that is using everybody.

"As coaches and players, we have to be very focused in our understanding of what we are trying to bring to that first Test match. Everyone has a role to play in that."

Four players who started Saturday's tense 26-24 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein - O'Connell, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams and Luke Fitzgerald - are back for more.

Other strong Test contenders, meanwhile, look set to feature against Western Province in Cape Town next Saturday, including wings Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye, plus fly-half Stephen Jones.

"If someone had said we would get to game four with three wins and everyone playing, I would probably have bitten their hand off," added McGeechan, who only has flanker Martyn Williams currently unavailable because of injury.

"I want all the players to give me a selection headache. The fewer easy choices I have to make, the better.

"If you've got only six games to your first Test match, the chances are you might only play twice or three times. What is important is the time they are getting together on the training field.

"If you were saying to me now 'Pick a Test team,' I would be doing it on the back of one game that a player has played, in some cases. I don't think that is fair to the players.

"I know we can't change the number of games going into the first Test.

"I just think it is more important that each player gets a genuine go - at least twice - to put his own game on the field."

The Sharks will be without 10 of their Springboks for Wednesday's game, but international forwards like Jannie du Plessis, Deon Carstens and Johann Muller might all start in what could prove the unbeaten Lions' toughest game so far.

"Regardless of scorelines, we are going to go out there and have a go," said Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford.

"It's a wonderful opportunity and we want to get out there and play attacking rugby.

"We don't want to be conservative because most of us won't ever get the opportunity to be involved against the Lions again."

The Lions, meanwhile, have announced that Neil Jenkins is to join them in South Africa as kicking coach.

Jenkins, who scored more than 1,000 points for Wales and the Lions during his international career, is expected to link up with the tourists in Cape Town later this week.

Jenkins' goalkicking underpinned the Lions' Test series triumph against the Springboks in 1997.

He has just arrived back home after Wales' successful North America tour, where he was part of the coaching staff alongside Robin McBryde and Sean Holley.

Lions manager Gerald Davies said: "We found out that Neil was going to be in South Africa during the latter stages of the tour.

"Therefore, the coaching staff thought it would be a good idea to ask him to become involved with the squad as kicking coach when he was here."

McGeechan added: "We did not appoint a kicking coach initially as Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards have experience in this area and have adequately taken responsibility for looking after the kickers.

"However, when someone of Neil's ability is available, and on hand, it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

"If anyone knows about what is required in terms of general kicking and goalkicking in South Africa, it is Neil."