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O’Connell Eager To Build Further Momentum

O’Connell Eager To Build Further Momentum

Ireland’s Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald have been passed fit for selection for the British & Irish Lions’ third tour match against the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday, having recovered from their respective injuries.

Click here for photos from the Lions’ training session at St. David’s School in Sandton, Johannesburg on Thursday.

England centre Riki Flutey, who is nursing a knee injury, is the only player out of the running to play for the Lions against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday (kick-off 3pm local time/2pm Irish time).

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Both Keith Earls (shoulder) and Luke Fitzgerald (chest infection and knee) were today passed fit for selection, with Fitzgerald and Donncha O’Callaghan both hoping to make their first appearances of the 2009 tour.

And according to Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree, recent tour arrivals Leigh Halfpenny and Gordon D’Arcy could also figure in the matchday squad.

D’Arcy linked up with the Lions touring party in Johannesburg today, following a very long flight from San Francisco where he had been on holidays with some friends.

The Leinster and Ireland centre made a try-scoring debut for the Barbarians in their win over England at Twickenham last Saturday.

Rowntree said: “It is important that we get Leigh into the tour and get him on the ground and get him played and D’Arcy will also possibly be in the mix at the weekend, depending on how he is.”

In a further boost, Ian McGeechan and his management team have no fresh injury concerns to contend with following Wednesday’s thumping win over the Golden Lions.

“You’ve got to savour victories like that, it was a special moment,” Rowntree added.

“There will be no complacency, there are plenty of areas for us to tighten up.

“Saturday will be a new group of players, some getting their first starts. As a player, you’ve got to take your chance, you don’t want to get to the back of the queue.”

Saturday’s clash with the Cheetahs should see O’Callaghan partnering tour captain Paul O’Connell in the Lions second row for the first time since they lined out against New Zealand in the final Test of the 2005 tour.

The Munster duo, fresh from Grand Slam and Magners League-winning campaigns, will be all out to impress with the first Test against South Africa now only two weeks away.

Commenting on the victory over the Golden Lions, O’Connell said: “Wednesday was great for us after the first game.

“I’m excited about playing again (on Saturday) and raising the bar is one of the things we have to do on this tour.

“This gives the tour a bit of momentum but it is important that we don’t get carried away with the performance.

“The key thing about the 1997 tour was that the players competed with each other and pushed themselves on.”

But just like Brian O’Driscoll and O’Connell, former Munster, Ireland and Lions hooker Keith Wood insisted that the Lions should not ‘get too carried away’ after their landslide win in Johannesburg.

“The Golden Lions were truly appalling. They looked as those they did not want to be on the pitch from about 10 minutes into the game,” he told the Telegraph.

“They’ve had a lot of strife in their camp and it looked like it on the pitch.

“Still, let’s not take anything away from the touring Lions, it’s still a brilliant win and you have to give them full credit for the way they played. They were accurate and did not play too loose.”

Pressed on which individuals impressed him most, Wood gave a special mention to one of Ireland’s recent Grand Slam winners.

“If I was pushed (to choose a man-of-the-match), I would give it to Tommy Bowe. He was very accurate and was involved in lots of attacks.

“He scored two tries and had a hand in three or four more. It was a good team performance but it was one he will remember.”