Will they or won’t they? And how many? The speculation surrounding how many changes, if any, will be made to the British & Irish Lions team for the second Test is mounting. Two players who have been talked up as possible starters are Leinster and Ireland duo Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney.
Luke Fitzgerald did his chances of making his Lions Test debut this weekend no harm with a workmanlike display in Tuesday’s 13-13 draw with the Emerging Springboks.
With left winger Ugo Monye having failed to convert a couple of notable try-scoring opportunities in the first Test last Saturday, both Fitzgerald and Shane Williams used the rain-hit midweek game to press their claims to replace Monye.
Speaking after his fourth tour match appearance, Fitzgerald said: “From a personal perspective, I was pretty happy with my performance.
“It was a bit pressurised going into the game. You want to put yourself into contention for a Test spot on the weekend.
“You want to look hungry for work, and you are hungry for work, but it is important you don’t force things in those situations, especially given the weather conditions.
“I feel I’ve done the best I can. It’s up to the coaches now, and to be honest, it is a weight off my shoulders.
“I don’t have to think about it now – I’ve done the best I can.”
A Grand Slam and Heineken Cup winner this season, Fitzgerald has played his part in three wins for the Lions on this tour and he popped up with a try in the midweek defeat of the Sharks.
The Lions team for the second Test will be revealed to the public tomorrow (Thursday) just after midday, and the young Dubliner is adopting a ‘whatever will be, will be’ attitude to the team selection.
“Whatever happens, happens now. You will be disappointed if you don’t get selected, but that’s life,” Fitzgerald added.
“I am pretty relaxed about the whole situation. I’m glad I got another opportunity before the Test match to show what I can do, and I feel like I gave a pretty good account of myself.
“I’ve been excited about being here with the Lions, and the only down-side was getting a chest infection during the first few weeks that kept me out of things for a while. I felt I had to do a little bit of catching up.”
A fluent Irish speaker, Fitzgerald put his Gaeilge skills to good use on the eve of the first Test when some of the Irish Lions ran into Hector O hEochagain and Risteard Cooper, the duo who are out in South Africa filming daily for Chase The Lions TV.
Commenting in his Lions diary, Fitzgerald’s Leinster and Ireland team-mate Rob Kearney gave an insight into how the players relaxed before the series opener against the Springboks.
“We always meet as a squad the night before a match at 6.15pm where Paulie (Paul O’Connell) and a few other boys say a few words,” Kearney said.
“Paulie spoke really passionately about the game ahead and it started to hit home what actually was awaiting the lucky 22 players. The mood was really good and everyone was all geared up for the first whistle.
“After dinner that evening, myself, Lukey, Paulie and Neil, one of our security guys, went to the cinema to see ‘The Hangover’, where we laughed straight for about two hours.
“Paulie looked liked one giant red tomato after it all. I haven’t seen a movie as funny as that in a long time, always good for the nerves to get out and about and try to take your mind off the game.
“On leaving the cinema we bumped into the funnymen Hector and Risteard who are back again with their candid commentary of the tour.
“We were having a good chat before Lukey and Hector started blabbing away together as Gaelige and that was the end of that!”
Kearney made his Lions Test debut during Saturday’s much-anticipated game, coming on for his full-back rival Lee Byrne during the first half.
Byrne suffered a recurrence of the left foot injury which has dogged him in recent seasons, and Kearney was a more than able replacement, counter-attacking with gusto, using his big left boot to good effect and providing a rock-solid presence under a torrent of high balls.
Depending on Byrne’s fitness, Kearney could either be back on the bench or installed as starting full-back for the second Test, but the Lions management may also opt to use Kearney’s skills out wide on the wing.
Reflecting on the first Test, the Louth man said: “Unfortunately the end result didn’t go our way, everybody was gutted after the game but we know we have what it takes to beat them next time. We just have to get out of the blocks earlier!
“Making my Test debut for the Lions was a very proud moment for me and hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to wear the jersey again.”