O'Connell poised to lead Lions

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The Independent Online

Long waits are not unknown at Heathrow but for 35 players it will all have been worth it when Ian McGeechan names his British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa at a Terminal Five hotel on Tuesday.

The burning question of which Irishman from Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll will lead the party appears to have been answered, with British media united in claiming that the Munster lock will got the nod ahead of the grand-slam winning skipper.

O'Driscoll was captain against New Zealand four years ago when the Lions were hammered 3-0. Having lost 2-1 in Australia in 2001 they are looking for their first series win since they triumphed 2-1 in South Africa 12 years ago when the hosts, as now, were world champions.

"The two Lions tours that have been won in South Africa were captained by second rows - Willie John McBride in 1974 and Martin Johnson in 1997 - so history would point towards O'Connell," Lawrence Dallaglio, a member of the victorious 1997 back row, told the Sunday Times.

O'Driscoll was in great form during Ireland's Six Nations clean sweep and won the player of the tournament award for the third time.

He has unfinished business with the Lions after his tour was cut short by injury a minute into the first test in New Zealand but it seems McGeechan has opted to ease his burden this time.

"O'Driscoll would be freed up to concentrate on his own game and getting the best out of the Lions back division, which he will effectively run," said Gareth Edwards, who tasted success against the Springboks in 1974.

Another man with bad memories of 2005, Jonny Wilkinson, is almost certain to miss out having failed to recover from his latest knee injury in time to play any club rugby.

Wilkinson was a belated addition to the squad four years ago as the 45th player, having only just recovered from a knee injury, but was below his best and missed the final test with shoulder problems.

McGeechan will take a much smaller party, 35 or 36 players, and has stressed often that he will select on form, rather than reputation.

That means Danny Cipriani, under McGeechan at Wasps, is also a long shot having struggled to spark and failed to secure a place in the England team after his comeback from a broken leg.

Wales centre Gavin Henson, whose midfield talent would have been ideally suited for the hard, fast pitches of South Africa, also looks out of the mix through injury.

McGeechan has any easy task in naming Ronan O'Gara and Stephen Jones as his two leading flyhalves, but who will be the third is anyone's guess, with Wales's James Hook and England's Toby Flood in with a shot.

The most interesting aspect of Tuesday's announcement is likely to be the identity of the "bolters" - men who have played their way in to selection contention with timely performances having been off the radar at the start of the season.

McGeechan, who sprung a surprise in 1997 with his inspired decision to include a core of former rugby league players for the first Lions tour of union's professional era, is not afraid to be bold and there are sure to be some young players, especially backs, who will have to re-arrange their summer holiday plans.

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