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Tour Match Preview: Sharks v British & Irish Lions

Tour Match Preview: Sharks v British & Irish Lions

Lions head coach McGeechan has made 11 changes to the team that clung on to defeat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein for this midweek outing against the Sharks, with skipper Paul O’Connell, Luke Fitzgerald, Lee Byrne and Shane Williams asked to start two games in five days.

2009 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Wednesday, June 10 

SHARKS v BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, ABSA Stadium, Durban, 7.10pm local time/6.10pm 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 fourth match of the 2009 tour of South Africa.

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The selected team to play the Sharks in Durban will be captained by tour skipper Paul O’Connell.

Gerald Davies said: “We are now halfway through the provincial matches prior to the first Test and the important factor is that the Lions are unbeaten. The next challenge is the Sharks in Durban.

“The selected team will want to ensure that the 100% playing record is maintained with a victory at ABSA Stadium which is also the venue for the first Test.”

Commenting on the team selection, Ian McGeechan said: “I am delighted that as we head into the fourth match we only have one player (Martyn Williams) who is unavailable for selection.

“The players and the medical staff have managed the injuries that have been sustained in a very professional manner.

“This is crucial as we enter matches against two of South Africa’s strongest provinces in the Sharks and Western Province in the space of four days.

“This is reflected by the fact that four starting players from the Cheetahs match will back up against the Sharks, while five players are starting their third match of the tour.

“Those five players are captain Paul O’Connell, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts and David Wallace.

“Paul will start with his third different second row partner in Alun Wyn Jones, while we also have new starting partnerships in the back-three, the half-backs and in the front row.

“The next two matches are obviously critical in the development of the Test side.

“While we have these new starting partnerships for the Sharks match we also have a centre pairing in Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll, and a back row of Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace and Tom Croft that have played together on tour in the Golden Lions match.”

James Hook is a late addition to the Lions’ replacements bench after Leigh Halfpenny’s tour was unfortunately ended by a thigh muscle injury.

Meanwhile, although the Sharks are missing Springboks skipper John Smit and international players of the calibre of Adi Jacobs, Ryan Kankowski, Tendai Mtawarira, Odwa Ndungane, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Steyn, they will not be short of firepower.

Goal-kicking scrum half Rory Kockott is sure to be a threat, as will centres Riaan Swanepoel and Andries Strauss.

Sharks captain Johann Muller has described the occasion as a ‘once in a lifetime’ fixture, while assistant coach Grant Bashford has called Wednesday’s contest ‘an awesome opportunity’ for the players.

The experienced Muller will continue to lead the side from the second row having been chosen ahead of Smit for the Sharks captaincy this season, after Smit returned from his spell with Clermont Auvergne.

Muller, who has won 22 caps for his country, has been part of a World Cup-winning squad and appeared in Super 14 and Currie Cup finals.

The Sharks are the current holders of the Currie Cup and have included a mixture of youth and experience in their side to face the Lions.

Guy Cronje and Chris Jordaan are two of the youngsters hoping to impress, while Albert van den Berg and Stefan Terblanche are amongst the more experienced members of the matchday squad.

Full-back Terblanche is well known to many of the current Lions squad after spending four years with the Ospreys between 2003 and 2007.

The 33-year-old has first hand knowledge of two of the Lions’ back-three, having played alongside both Lee Byrne and Shane Williams during his time in South Wales. He memorably claimed four tries on his Test debut against Ireland in 1998.

A total of five members of the Sharks’ 22 have been selected for the Emerging Springboks and could therefore face the Lions once more on June 23.

Flankers Jacques Botes and Jean Deysel, reserve prop Patric Cilliers, lock Sykes and winger Luzuko Vulindlu have all been recognised as potential future Springboks.

SHARKS: Stefan Terblanche; Chris Jordaan, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Luzuko Vulindlu; Monty Dumond, Rory Kockott; Deon Carstens, Skipper Badenhorst, Jannie du Plessis, Steven Sykes, Johann Muller (capt), Jacques Botes, Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel.

Replacements: Craig Burden, Patrick Cilliers, Albert van den Berg, Michael Rhodes, Charl MacLeod, Guy Cronje, Lwazi Mzozo.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales); Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland); Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland), Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Lee Mears (Bath/England), Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) (capt), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), David Wallace (Munster/Ireland), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland).

Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales), Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England), Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England), Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England), Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland), James Hook (Ospreys/Wales), Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England).

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Television Match Official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Sharks to win: 11/2; Draw: 33/1; British & Irish Lions to win: 1/10

Pre-Match Quotes: Ronan O’Gara (British & Irish Lions) – “I felt like an imbecile in that first match in Rustenburg. I certainly underestimated the effects of altitude.

“The mind was telling me one thing, but the body wouldn’t get into position to do it. The boys took it up a fair few notches at Ellis Park, and I asked myself why there was an efficiency in that game that there wasn’t when I played.

“I hope the team gets shape (in the rest of the warm-up games). Game one and game three we didn’t have much shape.

“It’s mostly my duty to ensure we have that shape, but the Welsh boys are key as well.

“They’re familiar with the way we’re trying to playing, so it’s essential that they take the lead there as well.

“I started out at roughly the same time as Stephen (Jones), and the greatest compliment I can give him is that he’s still there when every other out-half in Europe that started at a similar time has either fallen off, lost form or crumbled under the pressure. But he’s still there,’ he said.

“That’s testament to his skill and character. I have a great relationship with Stephen. Just because we’re competing for the same position doesn’t mean you have to behave like children.

“I’m competitive and so is he, but if you get beyond that you can have a good working relationship. I’m 32, he’s 31, we should be acting like grown men. That’s all it is.”

John Plumtree (Sharks coach) – “Call me a romantic or a traditionalist, but I think it is a big shame. To me, South Africa, along with Australia and New Zealand when it is their turn, should use a Lions tour as a means of warming up for the Tri-Nations.

“They should let the warm-up sides be at full strength, and if a couple of Springboks got injured, there is enough depth here to cover them.

“Go for it, make these tours what they were and encourage people to come to the build-up games. The alternative is that they could die out, and that would be in no one’s interests.

“I rate the Lions and I think the management has got it spot on preparation-wise.

“They are keeping the players all believing they are in with a chance of making the Test side, something that was not the case in New Zealand four years ago.

“The Lions will be much better than they were then. Much will depend on the outcome of the first Test in Durban, but they are going to be competitive and I cannot see the Springboks falling into the trap of underestimating them as they did in 1997.”

Pre-Match Links –

In Pics: Inside The Lions Camp

Halfpenny Suffers Second Injury Setback

Knee Injury Ruins Ferris’ Lions Hopes

O’Callaghan Pleased To Get Pitch Time

In Pics: Lions Enjoy Activity Day In Durban

Quotes Of The Week:

“I’m sure you’re all aware of Tommy Bowe’s little rendition of ‘Black Velvet Band’. Well poor Tommy seems determined to silence his singing critics and hit back, however he keeps failing.

“After the game on Saturday he was feeling confident to give it another crack. Needless to say, it hasn’t got any better!

“You can only feel sorry for him though, we were walking through the team hotel the other day when a group of supporters started jeering at Tommy, ‘what about her eyes?’ I’m afraid it’s something he might have for life!”

– Penning his tour diary, Rob Kearney reveals that Tommy Bowe’s glass-shattering rendition of ‘Black Velvet Band’, first performed at the Grand Slam celebrations in March, is likely to stick with him for some time

“I’d single out Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls and Tom Croft. They’ve really impressed me with their ability and attitude.”

– Taking part in a Q&A, Wales flanker Martyn Williams says that Messrs. Fitzgerald, Earls and Croft are the players that have surprised him most in training

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is an extremely special occasion, to get the opportunity to play against the Lions is just fantastic.

“I’ve been to the World Cup, played for the Boks, been in a Super 14 and Currie Cup final, but this is right up there. To play such a side is something very special.”

– Sharks captain Johann Muller gives his thoughts on facing Britain and Ireland’s elite at the ABSA Stadium