Well, the shocking news is that former Welsh star, Shane Williams, has been selected to play for the British and Irish Lions in their match against the ACT Brumbies on Tuesday (10.30)!
Williams retired from international rugby in 2011 (his last match, coincidentally, was against Australia), and he has been playing club rugby in Japan. He was a terrific player in his prime and scored 58 tries in 87 tests for Wales.
Williams also featured on 2 Lions tours, playing tests in both the 2005 (New Zealand) and 2009 (South Africa) series’. He scored 2 tries in the last test against South Africa. In one provincial game in New Zealand he scored 5 tries.
It’s a great call up for Williams and it will be interesting to see how he does, he may even have a chance to play in the tests depending on his performance. Williams is the 8th player to be called out to the Lions squad as cover since the tour started.
There are injury concerns with some players including Jaimie Roberts (who got injured in the Waratahs game and George North who’s carrying some knocks. Manu Tuilagi hasn’t played since getting an injury during the game against Queensland.
Rory Best will captain the Lions against the Brumbies, with Rob Kearney at full-back and Sean O’Brien at flanker. Stuart Hogg will play at out-half with Toby Faletau at no. 8. Justin Tipuric completes the back-row at 7.
All 4 of the three-quarters (centres and wings) will be making their first appearances of the tour. Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees played very well for England during the 6 Nations, while Christian Wade won his first cap last week against Argentina.
Rob Kearney is making his first start of the tour (and his second appearance after coming on as a sub during the Waratahs game). The back-line has a completely new look to it.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stuart Hogg, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Ian Evans, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling), 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Simon Zebo.
Warren Gatland has stated that none of the players that start against the Brumbies will play in the first test against Australia on Saturday which is an obvious disappointment for the players but there is still time for them to make a bid for the latter 2 tests.
It’s important that the players don’t get too disappointed as it has affected previous tours when players have gone off the boil if they believe they don’t have a chance of playing in the tests. This detrimental attitude can travel throughout the whole squad.
There’s always a chance that some of the players may feature on the bench in the first test with Sean O’Brien especially being a perfect impact player. If Rob Kearney puts in a great performance he may also be picked on the bench.
Simon Zebo is on the bench for the Brumbies game and if he puts in another great performance (after his terrific performance against the Waratahs) he has a chance of being picked for the tests, especially if George North doesn’t recover from injury.
Stuart Hogg had a great game at out-half against the Combined Country XV last Tuesday but the Brumbies will prove to be much tougher opposition. Hogg may even find himself playing in the test series at some point.
There are injury concerns about both Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell. Sexton especially has hamstring trouble and looked in difficulty during Saturday’s game against the Waratahs.
There’s a worry that Sexton won’t complete the first test, let alone the 3 match series and if he gets injured then the Lions are in trouble. Owen Farrell doesn’t appear to be up to handling the pressure of a Lions test series as yet.
The Brumbies will provide a stiff challenge for the Lions. They’re currently top of the Super Rugby table and though they won’t have all of their stars they’ll have some players that can cause the Lions problems just like the Waratahs did.
It was a great game between the Lions and the New South Wales Waratahs, with the Lions putting in some great runs but been challenged at the break-down (rucks/mauls). The Lions eventually won the game, 47-17.
The Lions were overwhelmed at some points during the match by the Brumbies, with Bernard Foley and Drew Mitchell especially causing problems for the Lions. Brumbies centre Tom Carter also had a great game, scoring both his team’s tries.
There were some great performances from the Lions as well. Simon Zebo was brilliant in his first appearance since been called out as a replacement. His Lions career almost got off to the perfect start when he scored with his first touch of the ball.
Unfortunately the try was disallowed but he had a great game overall. Jonathan Davies was the player of the match with some great running. He had a hand in all of the Lions tries and scored his own.
Leigh Halfpenny put in another terrific performance, scoring 2 great tries and kicking 8 goals with another amazing kicking display, one of the best I’ve seen. He’ll take a lot of the pressure off the out-half during the test series.
Jonny Sexton put in a very good performance, scoring his own try. He had to receive treatment for his bad hamstring though and the Brumbies scored while he was incapacitated.
Jaimie Roberts was having another great game before having to go off. It’s hoped that he will have recovered in time to have played in at least one of the tests as he’s a terrific player who can cause the Wallabies (Australia) no end of trouble.
There were some great performances in the pack as well, with Tom Croft a stand-out (he was another try-scorer). Paul O’Connell is putting in some of the greatest performances of his career with his lock partner, Alun-Wyn Jones, not far behind.
Warburton did well in his second game of the tour, he seems to be very effective in the nuts and bolts parts of the flankers roll, though the breakdown is a concern and he’ll need to be in top form for the test series.
Tom Youngs has been the best hooker of the tour, in my opinion, though he may be pipped by Richard Hibbard in the tests. Vunipola has really come along since becoming the first choice loose-head (since the injuries to Healy and Jenkins).
The test series starts in less then a week and this will be a big step up for most of the players. A Lions test is bigger than a Heineken final, a Grand-Slam decider and even a World Cup semi-final and will be a new experience for most of the test team.
Only O’Driscoll, Phillips, Heaslip, Croft, O’Connell, Wyn Jones and Jones have played in a Lions test before (of the probable test line-up) and most of the team will be novices at this level.
The Lions haven’t been really tested so far on this tour and they’ll need to be at their very best to beat Australia as the Wallabies will be a much tougher team than any they’ve faced so far on tour.
Considering none of the starting team will be eligible for the first test and the form of certain Lions players so far on tour the first test team is shaping up to look like this:
15. Leigh Halfpenny 14. Alex Cuthbert 13. Brian O’Driscoll 12. Jonathan Davies 11. George North 10. Jonny Sexton 9. Mike Phillips
8 Jaimie Heaslip 7 Sam Warburton 6 Tom Croft 5 Paul O’Connell 4 Alun Wyn Jones 3 Adam Jones 2 Tom Youngs 1 Mako Vunipola