Skip to main content

Nine new Lions to start South Africa tour opener

  • Story Highlights
  • British Lions name nine debutants in starting line-up for South Africa tour opener
  • Eight players with previous Lions experience in squad of 22 to face Royal XV
  • Keith Earls, youngest player in touring squad, lines up in Saturday's match
  • Captain Paul O'Connell will lead the team in the first of 10 matches on tour
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- British and Irish Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has named nine debutants in his starting line-up for Saturday's South African tour opener against a Royal XV in Rustenburg.

Keith Earls is the youngest player in the British and Irish Lions' touring squad to South Africa.

Keith Earls is the youngest player in the British and Irish Lions' touring squad to South Africa.

Captain Paul O'Connell will, however, be one of eight previous Lions tourists in the match-day squad of 22 -- that octet have made 546 international appearances between them.

O'Connell's fellow Irishman Keith Earls, at 21 the youngest player in the tourists' squad, will make his debut at center alongside 22-year-old Welshman Jamie Roberts.

Scotland skipper Mike Blair, a late call-up after Tomas O'Leary withdrew from injury, will start at scrum-half as partner to Ireland's Six Nations hero Ronan O'Gara.

The rest of the backline comes from Welsh club the Ospreys, with previous Lions tourist Shane Williams on one wing, Irishman Tommy Bowe on the other and Lee Byrne at full-back.

The forward pack has players with previous Lions experience: England prop Andrew Sheridan, compatriot Simon Shaw, O'Connell as the other lock, and Wales flanker Martyn Williams.

"I think it is really exciting that we have a lot of players making their debuts," McGeechan said. "I remember my debut against Western Transvaal at Potchefstroom 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.

"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.

"Scottish captain Mike Blair is at scrum-half while players of the caliber of Paul O'Connell, Joe Worsley and Adam Jones have played over 50 Tests each.

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

The Lions will open the 10-match, three-Test tour against a representative side largely drawn from South Africa's domestic Vodacom Cup winners the Griquas.

Players who were involved in last weekend's European Cup final between Leinster and Leicester, such as Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft, are expected to feature against the Golden Lions on Wednesday.

The tourists then take on the Cheetahs, Sharks, Western Province and Southern Kings before the opening clash with the Springboks on June 20.

British and Irish Lions team to play Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday:
L Byrne (Wales), T Bowe (Ireland) K Earls (Ireland), J Roberts (Wales), S Williams (Wales), R O'Gara (Ireland), M Blair (Scotland); A Sheridan (England), M Rees (Wales), A Jones (Wales), S Shaw (England), P O'Connell (Ireland, captain), J Worsley (England), M Williams (Wales), A Powell (Wales).
Replacements: L Mears (England), P Vickery (England), A-W Jones (Wales), S Ferris (Ireland), M Phillips (Wales), S Jones (Wales), R Flutey (England).

All About British LionsSouth AfricaRugby

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print