Ireland on the up as Lions go to SAfrica - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Ireland on the up as Lions go to SAfrica

By Julian Guyer 22/04/2009 01:27:23 PM Comments (0)

Ireland are set to contribute a record 14 players to a British and Irish Lions squad when the party for this year's three-Test tour of South Africa departs next month.

The 37-man squad named by Ian McGeechan, head coach of the Lions for the fourth time, will be captained by lock Paul O'Connell.

O'Connell is one of eight players from European champions Munster in the squad - the same number as provided by England.

Munster's achievement equals the record for one club jointly held by Newport (1910) and Leicester (2005).

Wales weigh in with 13 while Scotland, in a reflection of their recent form, have just two representatives in prop Euan Murray and Australia-born lock Nathan Hines.

The captains of three of the four "Home Unions" - England's Steve Borthwick, Scotland's Mike Blair and Wales's Ryan Jones - all failed to make the squad.

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll was included after leading his country to their first Grand Slam in 61 years.

But the centre, the Lions' captain in New Zealand four years ago, found himself in the ranks with O'Connell in charge due to McGeechan's desire to have an imposing forward lead the side against the world champion Springboks.

Lions fans will be hoping O'Connell can provide the kind of leadership delivered by Martin Johnson, who had yet to become England captain when he led McGeechan's successful squad in 1997, and by the legendary Willie John McBride, another Irish lock who led the 1974 tourists to the Lions' first series win in South Africa when McGeechan was a centre.

Among the unexpected selections in McGeechan's squad were the Munster duo of back Keith Earls and flanker Alan Quinlan.

At the age of 20, Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny - whose international career only started in November - is the youngest player in the squad while veteran England lock Simon Shaw is the oldest at 35.

Meanwhile, Andy Powell effectively edged out Ryan Jones for a back-row slot.

Among the players who could consider themselves unfortunate to be omitted were the England duo of fullback Delon Armitage and flanker Tom Croft.

Armitage was competing for a place in a back three where the Lions have strength in depth while Croft appears to have been undone by McGeechan's emphasis on having a powerful pack to match that of the physically imposing Springboks, a factor which worked in Quinlan's favour.

England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson was never in the running due to yet more injury problems while Danny Cipriani, discarded by England for this season's Six Nations, missed out after McGeechan decided to go with just two No.10s in Ireland's Ronan O'Gara and Wales's Stephen Jones.

England's New Zealand-born centre Riki Flutey, who could become the first man to play both for and against the Lions, is now likely to provide flyhalf cover in a squad also without Wales's James Hook.

More than a third of the Lions squad could be involved in this season's European Cup final on May 23 if Munster face Cardiff.

McGeechan has scheduled a training camp in the Spanish town of Granada in a bid to help those players available to get some practice at altitude and so acclimatise to the kind of conditions they will face in South Africa.

Lions - backs: Leigh Byrne (Wales), Rob Kearney (Ireland), Shane Williams (Wales), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Ugo Monye (England), Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Tom Shanklin (Wales), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), Keith Earls (Ireland), Riki Flutey (England), Ronan O'Gara (Ireland), Stephen Jones (Wales), Mike Phillips (Wales), Harry Ellis (England), Tomas O'Leary (Ireland) - forwards: Andrew Sheridan (England), Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Phil Vickery (England), Euan Murray (Scotland), Jerry Flannery (Ireland), Lee Mears (England), Matthew Rees (Wales), Paul O'Connell (Ireland, captain), Donncha O'Callaghan (Ireland), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales), Simon Shaw (England), Nathan Hines (Scotland), Stephen Ferris (Ireland), David Wallace (Ireland), Martyn Williams (Wales), Alan Quinlan (Ireland), Joe Worsley (England), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Andy Powell (Wales).

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