McGeechan names first Lions side

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The Independent Online

British and Irish Lions captain Paul O'Connell will lead the side out when the tourists launch their 10-match South African tour against a Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday.

The Ireland lock will lead a powerful line-up that includes seven Wales internationals, while Keith Earls and Jamie Roberts both make Lions debuts in midfield.



Head coach Ian McGeechan has named an all-Ospreys back three of Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams, with Ireland Grand Slam winner Ronan O'Gara pulling the strings from fly-half.



There is also an immediate chance for Scotland skipper and scrum-half Mike Blair, who was called into the squad last month after Munster's Tomas O'Leary withdrew through injury.



O'Connell will be partnered in the second row by England's Simon Shaw.



The English veteran and O'Connell are among only eight players in matchday 22 to have featured on a previous Lions tour.



Earls, at 21, is the youngest player on tour in South Africa, and McGeechan believes it will be a day to savour for both the Irishman and 22-year-old Roberts.

McGeechan said: "I think it is really exciting if we have a lot of players making their debuts.



"I remember my debut for the Lions against Western Transvaal in 1974, and it is a career highlight.



"For young men such as Keith Earls and Jamie Roberts it will be a day to remember and they will be thrilled to get an early taste of match action on the tour.



"While we have a lot of players making their Lions debuts, there is a huge amount of international experience in the team.



"The average age is 28 and that reflects the maturity we have in the squad."



McGeechan continued: "On Saturday we have in the team Martyn Williams, Ronan O'Gara and Simon Shaw who are on their third Lions tour. They know exactly what is in store in terms of the provincial matches.



"Following excellent preparations and a period of acclimatisation in South Africa, I know the lads are raring to go against the Royal XV and will be anxious to get the tour off to the best possible start."



The Lions are expected to open their trip with a comfortable victory against a representative side largely drawn from Vodacom Cup winners the Griquas.



As expected, players like Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft are set to make their tour entries next week after being involved in last Saturday's Heineken Cup Final between Leinster and Leicester.





British and Irish Lions team to play Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday:

L Byrne (Ospreys and Wales), T Bowe (Ospreys and Ireland) K Earls (Munster and Ireland), J Roberts (Cardiff and Wales), S Williams (Ospreys and Wales), R O'Gara (Munster and Ireland), M Blair (Edinburgh and Scotland); A Sheridan (Sale and England), M Rees (Scarlets and Wales), A Jones (Ospreys and Wales), S Shaw (Wasps and England), P O'Connell (Munster and Ireland, captain), J Worsley (Wasps and England), M Williams (Cardiff and Wales), A Powell (Cardiff and Wales).



Replacements: L Mears (Bath and England), P Vickery (Wasps and England), A-W Jones (Ospreys and Wales), S Ferris (Ulster and Ireland), M Phillips (Ospreys and Wales), S Jones (Scarlets and Wales), R Flutey (Wasps and England).

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