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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England & Lions centre

I do not envy Lions coach Ian McGeechan one bit because whoever you pick to tour South Africa, it means some very good players are going to be left behind.

After putting pen to paper it's nigh on impossible to settle on 35 or 36 players - just who do you leave out?

Lions boss Ian McGeechan
Lions boss McGeechan faces some tough choices

It's critical that McGeechan and his coaches get the make-up of the squad right because any player who is unhappy at being left out of the Test team could breed discontent within the party and that will destroy its soul.

The captain is so important on so many fronts on any Lions tour. He has to be a certainty for the Test team and have the respect of the whole squad.

The Irish pair of Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll are by far the front runners and for me Munster captain O'Connell takes it ahead of his national captain.

I prefer O'Connell because I believe captains need to lead from the front. Forwards are always at the centre of the action and can lead by example, which means O'Connell will be the perfect presence both on and off the field.

O'Driscoll will be in the Test team and will be another valuable leader, taking control of the backs both in attack and defence.

But other leaders will be crucial and that's why I would include the likes of former England captain Phil Vickery and current Wales skipper Ryan Jones.

The front row picks have to be powerful so they can attack what I consider to be one of the few weak points of the Springboks

Tight-head prop Vickery is a veteran of two World Cup finals and two Lions tours and will bring invaluable experience.

Back-rower Jones was one of the few players to come away from the Lions' disappointing tour of New Zealand in 2005 with an enhanced reputation.

He has respect for his leadership qualities and knows what it takes to win, having been part of Wales' two Grand Slams in recent times.

The front row picks have to be powerful so they can attack what I consider to be one of the few weak points of the Springboks.

Wales loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins has booked his first-class flat bed to South Africa along with Scotland's Euan Murray, Vickery and England's Andrew Sheridan, who's coming back to form with Sale.

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The Irish props John Hayes and Marcus Horan also make a strong case, as does Adam Jones from Wales.

There are six hookers in the running - England's Lee Mears, the Irish pair of Jerry Flannery and Rory Best, Scotland's Ross Ford and the Welsh duo of Matthew Rees and Huw Bennett.

I think Mears will go because his precision line-out throwing will be key against the crack Springbok second row of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

Ford was a front-runner but his throwing isn't great so I think the Irish duo will battle it out, with Best favoured because of his throwing.

England's young reserve hooker Dylan Hartley isn't yet what I thought he was going to be but his time will come, providing he gets over the cheap shots and peacock parading.

Wales second row Alun Wyn Jones
Wales' Alun Wyn Jones is guaranteed a berth on the trip

In the second row O'Connell and Wales' Alun Wyn Jones are certainties.

One of England's Simon Shaw or Scotland's Nathan Hines will make the trip along with one from England's Nick Kennedy, Welshman Ian Gough or Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan.

In the back row there is fierce competition and you wouldn't argue too much with the whole of the Irish trio going, along with Wales' Martyn Williams and Ryan Jones, and Tom Croft from England.

England's Joe Worsley could make the plane and Wales' Andy Powell, Ireland's Alan Quinlan, the Scottish pair of Alasdair Strokosch and Allister Hogg and England's Tom Rees can all have a case made for them.

If that was hard what about half-back, where there are genuine contenders from all four Home Nations?

Mike Phillips, Dwayne Peel, Mike Blair, Tomas O'Leary, Peter Stringer, Harry Ellis and Danny Care all have a good case for inclusion at scrum-half.

At fly-half Ireland's Ronan O'Gara and Wales' Stephen Jones are rubber-stamped but James Hook, Toby Flood, Danny Cipriani and maybe Cardiff Blues number 10 Nicky Robinson, after his performance against Gloucester on Saturday, are all in the frame.

It doesn't get any better when thinking about centres. O'Driscoll is going but who will partner him?

There is the Welsh pair of Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts, the England duo of Mike Tindall and Riki Flutey and fit-again Irishman Gordon D'Arcy, and only four will go in total.

Delon Armitage played so well for England in the Six Nations I don't think he can be ignored at full-back

When it comes to the wingers, Wales' Shane Williams and Ireland's Tommy Bowe have their seats on the plane, with youngsters Leigh Halfpenny, from Wales, and Luke Fitzgerald, from Ireland, possibly joining them.

But can the selectors ignore the likes of Mark Jones, Paul Sackey, Mark Cueto, Thom Evans and Josh Lewsey, who can also play full-back and centre?

Full-back is a little easier with Wales' Lee Byrne and Ireland's Rob Kearney as front runners, but Delon Armitage played so well for England in the Six Nations I don't think he can be ignored.

Veteran Scotland points machine Chris Paterson could ease his way in because of his kicking excellence, the respect he has among other players and his experience and leadership qualities.

Who goes only McGeechan and his coaches know at the moment, but come Tuesday we will all find out what their thinking has been.

It won't be an easy tour but by the very nature of the players in the mix I believe the Lions are more than capable of victory and am tipping them to win 2-1, as in 1997!


Guscott's Lions squad to tour South Africa:

Backs: Byrne, Kearney, Armitage, S Williams, Halfpenny, Bowe, Fitzgerald, O'Driscoll, Flutey, Shanklin, Tindall, O'Gara, Jones, Hook, Phillips, Peel, Care.

Forwards: Jenkins, Murray, Vickery, Sheridan, Horan, Mears, Best, Ford, O'Connell, Wyn Jones, Shaw, Kennedy, Ferris, Croft, Worsley, Wallace, M Williams, Heaslip, R Jones.



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