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Tour Match Preview: Free State Cheetahs v British & Irish Lions

Tour Match Preview: Free State Cheetahs v British & Irish Lions

There are two all-Irish combinations in the British & Irish Lions team to face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this weekend. Debutant Luke Fitzgerald links up with Keith Earls in a potentially explosive centre pairing, while the tried and trusted second row partnership of captain Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan gets its first outing of the 2009 tour.

2009 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Saturday, June 6

FREE STATE CHEETAHS v BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein, 3pm local time/2pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2)

Team News: British & Irish Lions tour manager Gerald Davies and head coach Ian McGeechan have announced the Lions team for the third match of the 2009 tour of South Africa.

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The selected team will play Super 14 side the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday and will be led by tour captain Paul O’Connell.

The game will see Luke Fitzgerald, Stephen Ferris and Donncha O’Callaghan make their first starts of the 2009 tour, with Fitzgerald winning his first cap in the famous red jersey.

Debutant Fitzgerald has recovered from a chest infection and a knee injury to form an exciting all-Irish centre pairing with Keith Earls, who is back to fitness after sustaining shoulder damage in last Saturday’s win over the Royal XV.

In total, there are five Irish players in the Lions starting line-up, headed by O’Connell, while Ireland backs Ronan O’Gara and Gordon D’Arcy will be on bench duty in Bloemfontein.

D’Arcy, called up to the tour as midfield cover, linked up with the Lions squad in Johannesburg on Thursday having flown over from San Francisco where he was holidaying.

Commenting on the team selection, Lions coach McGeechan said: “With the selection of Donncha O’Callaghan, Leigh Halfpenny and Luke Fitzgerald in the starting side, it means that all the squad players will have taken to the field according to plan.

“We also have new arrival Gordon D’Arcy on the bench which gives him a chance to get straight into the action.

“Although there are no players backing up from the team against the Golden Lions, several of the replacements who saw action in that match have now been selected for their first start.

“For the Cheetahs match, Andy Powell, Stephen Ferris, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Harry Ellis and James Hook are all in the starting line-up for the first time.

“The team includes an all-Welsh back three, an Irish combination in midfield and a Munster second row pairing.

“We are also are continuing to build partnerships and combinations among the players from the four nations and this is reflected in the front row where Scottish team-mates Euan Murray and Ross Ford will pack down in the front row alongside Andrew Sheridan.

“And the back row where three players from three different nations will play alongside each other.”

This will be the first time the Lions have faced the Cheetahs as a professional entity, with the hosts having previously played under the name of Orange Free State or simply Free State.

The Lions boast a record of six wins and a draw from their eight matches against Free State sides, with their only defeat coming in their very first clash back in 1924.

The most recent match between the two teams took place during the Lions’ last visit to South Africa 12 years ago when winger John Bentley crossed for a hat-trick of tries in a thrilling 52-30 win.

The Cheetahs are without captain Juan Smith, who is expected to start at openside flanker for the Springboks when the three-match Test series begins on June 20 in Durban, but they do include a host of internationals with a point to prove.

Four members of the Cheetahs starting line-up were named in the South African squad to face a Namibian XV on May 29 and all four will be keen to make Peter de Villiers think he has made a mistake in leaving them out of the 28-man party for the series against the Lions.

Heinrich Brüssouw, one of the country’s most-consistent performers throughout this year’s Super 14, starts at blindside flanker, while centre Meyer Bosman, prop Wian Du Preez and hooker Adriaan Strauss will also be looking to impress.

Springbok international Hendro Scholtz skippers the side from the back row.

FREE STATE CHEETAHS: Hennie Daniller; Danwel Demas, Corne Uys, Meyer Bosman, JW Jonker; Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Tewis De Bruyn; Wian Du Preez, Adriaan Strauss, Kobus Calldo, Nico Breedt, David De Villiers, Heinrich Brussouw, Francois Uys, Hendro Scholtz (capt).

Replacements: Richardt Strauss, WP Nel, Frans Viljoen, Kabamba Floors, Gerrie Odendaal, Louis Strydom, Fabian Juries.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland), Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales); James Hook (Ospreys/Wales), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland), Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) (capt), Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland), Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales).

Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England), Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland), Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland), Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Television Match Official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Free State Cheetahs to win: 11/2; Draw: 28/1; British & Irish Lions to win: 1/10

Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (British & Irish Lions) – “What happened on Wednesday night will be great for the tour. We did the simple things very well, and the offloads came because of that.

“It gives the tour a bit of momentum and maybe makes people sit up and take notice.

“One of the first things (our defence coach) Shaun Edwards said on Thursday morning was that we don’t go out and try to play razzle-dazzle rugby or anything like that.

“A lot of what happened on Wednesday was from doing the simple things well. The offloads came from quick ball, and that is what we have got to do on Saturday, first and foremost.

“It is about keeping our composure and making sure we play to win first. Whatever happens after that, happens.”

Naka Drotske (Cheetahs) – “The Golden Lions were very poor in defence. There were holes everywhere.

“They did not have much structure. That allowed the Lions to get momentum and to bring their dangerous backs into play.

“We will have to get in their faces for 80 minutes and be very physical to ensure we stop them getting momentum.

“If you allow them to get any momentum they will cut you to pieces, as they showed this week.”

Pre-Match Links –


Fitzgerald Buoyed For Big Moment

Determined D’Arcy Targets Test Place

First Lions Starts For Fitzgerald, Ferris And O’Callaghan

Have You Backed The Lions To Roar In South Africa?

O’Connell Eager To Build Further Momentum

Quotes Of The Week:

“Rob Kearney had a far more bizarre injury than me. Last week he sneezed and his neck went into a spasm for a couple of days. It was hilarious.”

Stephen Ferris answers back after Lions team doctor James Robson said the Ulster and Ireland back rower had picked up ‘the most bizarre injury’ of the tour so far. Ferris injured his calf getting off the team bus

“Donncha (O’Callaghan) has racked up the most time sitting by the pool and is definitely the most tanned out of us Irish guys. Keith Earls, who arrived in South Africa a strange white/purple, has even picked up a bit of colour. The Welsh guys are still leading the way on the tan front, fake or not, cannot be determined!”

Tommy Bowe gives us an update on the battle of the tans in the Lions camp

“Leigh Halfpenny arrived this week and was put straight to work. Now Leigh is 20, quick and very fit, even for a Test wing.

“With a few pairs of ‘interested’ eyes looking on, our fitness coach Craig White suggested eight laps might get any wrinkles out of legs that had made a long flight south.

“After six tours of the training pitch Leigh was puffing and panting like a 60-year-old. Point made. Welcome to altitude.”

– Lions defence coach Shaun Edwards explains the difficulties players have in adjusting to the altitude conditions in South Africa, using Leigh Halfpenny as an example