Five matches, five wins and now the hard part – the business end of the tour as the countdown to Saturday’s first Test against South Africa truly gets underway. This trip to Port Elizabeth offers the Lions players a last chance to impress the management ahead of the team announcement for the Springboks game.
2009 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Tuesday, June 16
SOUTHERN KINGS v BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 3pm local time/2pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2)
Team News: The selected Lions team to play the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday will be led by Munster and Ireland second row Donncha O’Callaghan.
Tour manager Gerald Davies said: “The Lions’ next challenge is the Southern Kings at the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The match will be played on Youth Day tomorrow which is a National Holiday.
“We are honoured to be playing on such a special day and I know the Lions are looking forward to the match and maintaining the unbeaten tour record.”
Commenting on the team selection, head coach Ian McGeechan said: “This is Test week and there is a noticeable change in attitude within the touring party.
“We are now heading towards the business end of the tour and the reason why we have come to South Africa.
“As you would expect the immediate focus is the next match against the Southern Kings on Tuesday before attention turns to selection for the first Test for which all players will be considered.
“The Southern Kings is not a regular team but we understand there are some very talented players in the squad for the match.
“Experience tells me that you can never underestimate any South African team and like the other teams we have faced on the tour so far we will not take them lightly.
“Seven players are backing up from the Western Province match with Nathan Hines, Joe Worsley, Riki Flutey and Keith Earls given the opportunity in the starting line-up in different positions.
“The team will be captained by proud Munster man Donncha O’Callaghan, an experienced Lions tourist, who is a very popular member of the squad.
“This will be his tenth Lions match including two Tests against New Zealand during the 2005 tour.
“As mentioned by doctor Gary O’Driscoll at our medical briefing, we will give Mike Blair a fitness test on Tuesday morning.
“He had to withdraw from the replacements bench against Western Province last Saturday due to a foot injury.”
In a late change to the Lions squad, it has been announced that Ugo Monye will start the Southern Kings game.
Shane Williams will travel to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town this morning for today’s match having recovered from a stomach bug but he will be on the bench.
Meanwhile, the Southern Kings, coached by former Ulster boss Alan Solomons and hailing from the Eastern Cape, are hoping to impress in their first ever competitive fixture.
The Super 14 competition will add an extra team next season and the Kings are desperate to join the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks and Stormers for the 2010 campaign.
The Kings contain no less than six players with extensive experience of the British and Irish game.
Three members of the starting side currently play their rugby for English clubs, with Harlequins centre De Wet Barry and Bristol winger Matt Turner joined by new Leeds Carnegie lock Marco Wentzel.
Three more players have previously played their rugby in the UK, with Wylie Human, Frikkie Welsh and Jaco van der Westhuyzen having spent time with English clubs.
The talented van der Westhuyzen is arguably the most high profile player within the Kings set-up, having won a total of 32 caps for the Springboks.
Regarded by many as one of the most talented South Africa playmakers in recent years, hos inconsistent form on the big stage has prevented him from becoming a regular feature in the ‘Boks team.
Memorably, the home side’s coach Alan Solomons enjoyed three impressive seasons with Ulster between 2001 and 2004, winning the Celtic Cup, finishing as runners up in the Celtic League and improving their European ranking from 27th to 12th.
Although he then lasted less than a season at Franklin’s Gardens with Northampton after a poor start to the league campaign, Solomons has made a significant impact in the British and Irish game at various levels.
He prepared Oxford University for the annual Varsity match on four occasions and also led the Barbarians to wins over England, Scotland and Wales in 2003.
Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett during South Africa’s 17-Test unbeaten run and their third place finish in the 1999 World Cup.
He has most recently been working as a consultant for the International Rugby Board’s High Performance initiative.
SOUTHERN KINGS: Tiger Mangweni; Wylie Human, Frikkie Welsh, De Wet Barry, Matthew Turner; Jaco van der Westhuyzen, Francois Hougaard; Jaco Engels, Derick Kuun (capt), Ruan Vermeulen, Ross Skeate, Marco Wentzel, Solly Tyibilika, Mpho Mbiyozo, Darron Nell.
Replacements: Delarey du Preez, Dean Greyling, Lungelo Payi, Dries van Schalkwyk, Josh Fowles, Bevin Fortuin, Mzwandile Stick.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland); Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England), Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland); James Hook (Ospreys/Wales), Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland), Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland) (capt), Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland), Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales).
Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), David Wallace (Munster/Ireland), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England), Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland), Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television Match Official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Southern Kings to win: 8/1; Draw: 33/1; British & Irish Lions to win: 1/33
Pre-Match Quotes: Donncha O’Callaghan (British & Irish Lions) – “This is a great position for everyone going out to play on Tuesday. It is a chance to force the coach’s hands with a huge performance, and that’s a great way for everyone to feel.
“It’s a huge honour and it means so much to me. It will be the highlight of my rugby career.
“‘Geech’ doesn’t mess around so I didn’t think it was a practical joke. He said that nothing was sorted for Saturday, but he’d like me to lead the side.
“I’m known as a bit of a practical joker, but when it comes to playing rugby there is a different side to me. It means an awful lot to me.
“There is a tremendous buzz around the squad. I think this tour has pushed a lot of us out of our comfort zones.
“It’s been great, a bit old school, and something a lot of us really haven’t had.
“The guys are going out to leave the coaches in no doubt they want to make the Test team.
“There is nothing really to captaining a side like this. I won’t be telling them what to do because they are hugely motivated. That will make it very easy for me to captain the side.
“We are a group of players who get on really well and this tour has got the feel of a club side.
“The Southern Kings have a lot of good players in their side and it’s going to be another tough game, but we’ll be looking to take the hand-brake off and worry about ourselves rather than them.”
Derick Kuun (Southern Kings) – “In rugby you always have a chance. The Lions may be a bit weakened, but they are an international side, that’s the bottom line. But we have many experienced guys here, a solid squad.
“We haven’t been together as long as the other provincial sides, but the quality of players we have is a lot better than the Currie Cup sides that have played them.
“We have a realistic chance of beating them. We have a quality coaching staff, as well as former Springboks such as Jaco van der Westhuyzen and De Wet Barry.
“There are a few Bulls players who know each other, while a few guys are from Western Province and have played together in the past. The continuity is there in that aspect.
“To be captain and lead these guys is a huge honour for me. I just wanted to play against them, and now to lead the side is an added bonus.
“I know a lot lies on my shoulders, but it’s a privilege and we’re going out to win there on Tuesday.
“I think they will underestimate us. We are not just the underdogs for the Lions, but also in the eyes of South African rugby.
“No one is backing the franchise, but that’s all in our favour.
“If we pull off a win here, it’s not just for us but for the franchise as well as rugby in the entire region.”