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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England & Lions centre

Leigh Halfpenny, Keith Earls and Ugo Monye must have had the biggest grins on their faces after hearing Gerald Davies read their names out at the Lions squad announcement.

Leigh Halfpenny celebrates scoring against England
Wales winger Halfpenny has really come through this season

But there will be a few unhappy faces too - Tom Croft can consider himself very unlucky and Ryan Jones is also unfortunate not to make the party to tour South Africa.

I mentioned Earls way back in October as a possible outsider to tour but didn't think he'd done enough to impress the selectors. I'm glad he has - his last performance for Munster must have sealed it for him.

He has good acceleration and tackles above his weight, the hard grounds will suit him and he will be a real handful for the opposition to look after.

Wales winger Halfpenny gets better and better every time I see him play. He doesn't appear to have many nerves and goes about his work very professionally. He also possesses pace, which is always scary for defenders.

Monye has caught the eye this season for Quins and England and his pace and finishing have clinched his place.

For these three guys to be picked ahead of the likes of England players Delon Armitage, Josh Lewsey, Paul Sackey, Mark Cueto and Mike Tindall, and Ireland's Gordon D'Arcy, shows how much belief the selectors have in them.

This tour will be the making of a lot of these players

They are young men embarking on what will be the experience of a lifetime. I hope they stay fit and well and look forward to them competing for Test places.

There are two surprise omissions in the forwards in the shape of Croft and Ryan Jones, but the selectors had a tough choice and I think they've got it right up front.

There is more than enough muscle and physicality to compete with the Boks and the back row will have sufficient pace to test Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger and Juan Smith.

I thought Croft's pace and line-out presence would give him the nod over Quinlan but they've gone for experience.

Tom Croft pictured while playing for Leicester
Croft misses out despite impressing for Leicester and England

Wales captain Jones can also feel unlucky. I didn't think Andy Powell's performances in the Six Nations made him an automatic selection and I thought Jones's leadership qualities might have given him the edge over the Cardiff Blues number eight.

It's no real surprise that Paul O'Connell is captain and I feel it's the right choice, although I sense Brian O'Driscoll, who was injured so early on the last tour, would have liked another crack at the Lions captaincy.

Despite not being captain, O'Driscoll's contribution will be vital because he is one of the stand-out players in the squad and the Lions will need big performances from him.

I think it's his time again and look forward to watching him at his best, as he was during the 2001 tour.

Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis and Tomas O'Leary will have a battle royal to take the number nine Test jersey and it is wide open. Phillips starts as the favourite but Ellis and O'Leary will push him all the way.

O'Leary has proved himself this season and is a real threat around the ruck and maul - playing for Munster has helped his cause no end.

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England scrum-half Ellis was finding form during the Six Nations and by the time the Lions tour, he should be at full throttle.

Only taking two stand-offs is a risk, especially if the selectors feel Riki Flutey can play 10 because he can't, certainly not at this level.

He can run and pass but the England inside centre's tactical kicking and game management isn't what you need from an international fly-half.

It might be a case of giving Ronan O'Gara and Stephen Jones as much game time as possible leading up to the Test matches, with one playing and the other on the bench in the warm-up games.

It will be very competitive between the two of them and I'm not sure how it's going to pan out.

There are also only two specialist full-backs, but Halfpenny and Tommy Bowe could slip in there if required.

This tour will be the making of a lot of these players. They need to grasp this opportunity to join a unique group of past players who have won a series - it's all there for the taking.



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see also
O'Connell handed Lions captaincy
21 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Halfpenny targets Lions Test spot
22 Apr 09 |  Welsh
Boks surprised by O'Connell pick
21 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Lion Ellis backs excluded Croft
21 Apr 09 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
20 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions squad selector
21 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott column
13 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union


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