Category: British and Irish Lions

News and articles on the historic British and Irish Lions touring side as viewed from our particular Scottish perspective. Since the blog started we have covered the 2009, 2013 and 2017 Lions tours.

All Change For Lions

As expected the British and Irish Lions team to face the Golden Lions on Wednesday night has been heavily rotated with only three of Saturday’s starters remaining in the shape of David Wallace (moved to 7), Tommy Bowe and Jamie Roberts. Only youngster Keith Earls was unavailable for selection after sustaining a shoulder knock. Flutey seems unlucky not to start after a strong showing from the bench on Saturday but he does have a slight strain that kept him out of training on Sunday. Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll will lead a side that features heavier (in every sense) Scottish representation in the shape of Nathan Hines, along with Ford and Murray on the bench. If the rotation continues along the lines of Geech’s policy that everyone gets a shot in the first three games, it is likely that the next one could see Murray and Ford starting with Blair coming back to the bench and probably Englishman Ellis starting at scrum half inside Hook – after that though the team will start to take shape and our boys will have to be sharp to hold on to their places…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Golden Lions on Wednesday 3rd June

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England)
10. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
4. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
3. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)

Replacements:
16. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
17. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
18. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
19. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
22. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)

From Lionsrugby.com: The Golden Lions represent the old Transvaal and Gauteng Lions teams that have faced the British & Irish Lions 17 times since 1891. They have a reunion on the eve of Wednesday night’s fixture for the Transvaal side that beat the Lions in 1968 and have the best record of any South African team against the tourists with seven victories and a draw.

Scots Give Strong Showing in Sevens

… Mike Blair, not so much.

Scotland’s patchwork Sevens squad did the nation proud and narrowly missed out on beating IRB series winners South Africa to a place in their first cup final. In front of a home crowd sunning its pasty white self beneath rare Scottish sunshine (tops off at the first opportunity as expected), the Scots gave another edge of the seat viewing experience typified by the physicality of Ally Hogg and Sean Lamont. It seemed to be their extra muscle and experience that gave the more specialised skills of sevens regulars such as Colin Gregor, Roddy Grant, Greg Laidlaw and Jim Thompson room to flourish in victories over last week’s winners England, as well as Canada and Samoa. A controversial group-stage loss to Kenya (with the winning try coming after Laidlaw being punished for “throwing the ball in to touch” while seemingly catching the ball when tackled in touch) might have given them an “easier” semi-final had the result gone differently, but as it was Scotland stood up to the possibility of annihilation by the champions bravely and the South Africans were only able to clinch victory in extra time.

Meanwhile in South Africa, the British and Irish Lions tour kicked off fairly quietly, with most of South Africa seemingly watching the Bulls destroy the Chiefs in the Super 14 final instead. A half-full Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace (we should change our stadium to Murrayfield Sports Palace) nearly saw an upset with the touring side putting in a pretty ropey first performance against a fired up Royal XV. Defeat to what was essentially a third-tier team was avoided thanks to Lee Byrne who single-handedly wrestled the match back under the control of the Lions with some expert kicking and a brilliant solo try. Mike Blair had a fairly nervy start, and although eventually he settled into things with a chargedown, a good break (only halted by a tap tackle) and some good work under the high ball, his service was a bit slow and put under constant harrying pressure by his opposite number. If it’s any consolation, Mike Phillips’ passing was not much better when he came on, and Ronan O’Gara coped well with the variety of strange passes he received throughout the match to haul in 22 points. A good test of O’Connell’s leadership and he threw himself into the latter stages of the game to help the Lions seal victory. Full rundown of the match can be found here.

Blair in first Lions Team of the Tour

Tour Manager Gerald Davies today announced his first British and Irish Lions XV to face the Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday, with Mike Blair handed the starting scrum-half berth in a team including tour captain Paul O’Connell. The other Scots are left out (Euan Murray is being rested). Blair’s half back partner will be Ronan O’ Gara. Several of the players such as Blair, and probably Shane Williams, will be looking to show they are back on form in a back division with a distinctly Welsh flavour.

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
6. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
2. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sales Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
19. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
20. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
21. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
22. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)

Monty Steps In to Sevens Squad

After punching above their weight in reaching the semi final of the IRB World Sevens at Twickers last week, the Scotland Sevens squad move on to Murrayfield this week hoping for a repeat of the good performance on home turf. Having watched Scotland throw away a winnable match against Kenya I went out thinking “oh well, same old same old” only to return and find they had beaten Fiji and humped the USA setting up a quarter against Portugal. They won through that (just) to face a semi with Auld Enemies England. The game was probably there for the winning at points, had Thom Evans not been ruled out, but in the end England were too strong – they went on to win the competition.

So with Thom Evans out with a foot problem, for this weekend’s squad coach Stephen Gemmell has called in new Scarlets man Sean Lamont, who represents a different sort of winger but who will hopefully be more than up to the challenge. Ally “played every game this season and still volunteering for Sevens” Hogg and Roddy “Ginger Warrior” Grant give them a good shout at the breakdown (such as it is in Sevens) so hopefully we can see some good results at Murrayfield. First group game up is a chance for revenge against England. Tickets for both days still available, naturally. And for those of you outwith spitting distance of Edinburgh, full coverage is on Sky apart from when the Lions are on.

In other Murrayfield news, Edinburgh have signed Scotland A, ex Borders and Newcastle full back and sometime fly-half Steve Jones to swell their ranks with the departure of Hugo to France. Robbo has also signed Dutch wing Tim Visser from the Falcons, his first non-Scottish signing of the season.

Meanwhile reports of team spirit being forged in South Africa seem positive, with Donnacha O’C saying it already feels like a club side. Let’s hope they don’t play like one. Big Nathan has been put in charge of rooming arrangements – good move putting Ross Ford with Paul O Connell. When is Nathan going to be roomed with O’Gara? And Warren Gatland has announced his intention not to publically slag anyone off (the Irish?) this time out. First game up on Saturday against the Royal XV, team announcement on Thursday around 2. Anyone getting excited yet?

PS If there are any Scottish fans going out to SA on tour, please get in touch (details on About Us page) – we’d love for you to do some reporting either out there or when you get back.

UPDATE: It is actually possible to watch all the Sevens on Saturday, Sky is just channel hopping it. So you can still record Scotland’s glory.

Lions: Ford to Replace Flannery

This just in from the Lions: Scotland hooker Ross Ford was today announced by British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, as the tour replacement for the injured Irish hooker Jerry Flannery.

Davies said, “Munster hooker Jerry Flannery tore ligaments in his left elbow in training on Wednesday that unfortunately ruled him out of the tour. His place in the tour squad is taken by Edinburgh’s 25-year old hooker Ross Ford who played in all five of Scotland’s 2009 Six Nations championship matches.” While this statistic in itself may not be something to be particularly proud of, well done to Ross, I am sure he will make a great contribution to the tour and it will bring his game on greatly although Flannery is a big loss.

Commenting on the replacement Head Coach Ian McGeechan said, “Jerry has had a terrific season and he anchored the Irish scrum during Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam season. It is disappointing that after selection for the Lions his season should end with a pre-tour injury.”

“Injuries are a part of the game and while very distressing for the affected player we as a squad have to accept them as a fact of life. It is a part of the game we play. We are focussed on moving forward, concentrating on the task at hand and the first match.”

“Ross is a terrific player and he will naturally slot straight in as hooker. I look forward to welcoming him into camp tonight,” added McGeechan.

The replacement player for Leigh Halfpenny will be announced in due course.

Barring anything awful happening to Euan Murray playing for Northampton in tonight’s European Challenge Cup final, that brings the total number of Scottish players in the party to 4, which already makes it better than the last tour, sort of. That match is on Sky Sports, k.o. 1945. Also of interest may be “The Invincibles” a new film documenting the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa which is also on Sky Sports tonight and tomorrow, should be worth a watch.

Geech set to announce Lions replacements today

Replacements on tour for Jerry Flannery and Leigh Halfpenny will be announced later today – watch this space!

Jim Telfer has tipped Ross Ford as the ideal man for the job, while former Lions hooker Keith Wood has gone for Rory Best. Meanwhile Chris Paterson’s name has appeared out of nowhere since Halfpenny was pulled (temporarily) presumably for his prowess as a kicker. I’d be tempted to go with Armitage or Evans myself, thought it is hard to argue against Mossy’s kicking stats…

Lions Fall Off The Ark Two by Two

Or three, perhaps. More players have joined Tomas O’Leary and Tom Shanklin on the list of Lions casualties, and the tour has not even started.

Alan Quinlan’s ban for gouging was upheld, so he will not tour to South Africa. Non-surprise of the year is that Tom Croft will replace him, offering something different in the back row including excellence in the lineout (and additional cover in the second row). Perhaps it is a sign of Scottish decline that our traditional area of strength – the back row – offers no immediate candidate with Strokosch out injured.

In other news hooker Jerry Flannery and winger Leigh Halfpenny both have injuries. Halfpenny’s is not too serious and although he is to be replaced, he will re-join the tour when recovered. This could be an opening for Thom Evans or Chris Paterson to sneak on tour, although the favourite would seem to be Delon Armitage, with Mark Cueto another possibility. Alongside Irishman Rory Best, Scotland hooker Ross Ford is one of the favourites to replace Flannery who has chipped a bone in his elbow in training. Ford would certainly add some grunt and physicality – plus familiarity with Euan Murray – in the front row, however his line-out throwing might be a concern against the likes of Victor Matfield.

Breaking News…Blair a Lion!

Breaking news…

Scotland Captain Mike Blair has been called up for the British and Irish Lions squad that travels to South Africa this summer.  Blair has been called up to replace the unfortunate Thomas O’Leary who recently broke his leg playing for his club side Munster.

Blair, who plays for Edinburgh,  was thought at the turn of the year to be a certain to travel South Africa.  However a poor Six Nations campaign and unsure performances for his club side saw him not even make the travelling party.   Blair has been a key part of the Edinburgh side that has recently gone on a five match winning streak and his performance in last weekends 43 – 3 defeat of the Dragons will have no doubt helped highlight what he can bring to the Lions party.

Fellow Scot Chris Cusiter was initially rumoured to be the front runner as a replacement but perhaps being stuck on the bench for Perpignan has hurt him (the same could be said for Dwayne Peel at Sale), while Blair has been able to take full part in Edinburgh’s recent string of consecutive victories. I am sure he will make a full contribution and if he finds the form of the autumn (where he made most of the Springbok team look a little ordinary at times) he definitely has the class and vision to be the test scrum half.

Blair will no doubt now want to push for a test place in the Lions team.  His inclusion now ups the number of Scots in the Lions squad to a (still paltry) 3.  All of us here would like to congratulate Mike on his call up and hope he’ll be able to do both himself and his country proud.

Edinburgh Back In Fourth As Glasgow Fail to Ignite

Edinburgh blasted the Dragons with a bonus-point victory at Murrayfield this weekend but Glasgow failed to do them a favour by beating an out-of-sorts Ospreys team. They did deny them a bonus point but the game was marred by Max Evans going off on a stretcher with what looked like a nasty knee injury and another schizophrenic refereeing performance from Irishman George Clancy. Ruaridh Jackson looked inventive at 10 and kicked most of his points and Lome Fa-Atau had a pretty good game on the opposite wing from Thom Evans. I have to say that Andrew Henderson looked pretty off-peak when he came off the bench with a couple of poor and late challenges – one of which he would have been carded for if Clancy wasn’t obsessing over sending off as many props as possible. The Ospreys now move third, equal on points with Leinster. Edinburgh can regain second if both those teams lose next weekend and they manage to beat Cardiff in Cardiff. Unlikely, I know. But Cardiff have a midweek game and must be on their last legs by now – paying for the silly Anglo Welsh Cup. Meanwhile Leinster face the Dragons but Ospreys have to play Munster. So third could be on and they are guaranteed to at least equal their best ever finish of fourth.

While he was always an outside chance to be called up to the Lions as a replacement for the injured Tom Shanklin – and it was interesting to hear Will Greenwood mention him as a possibility – this will almost certainly rule Maximus out. In the same game though James Hook looked pretty good from inside centre, and he might give the Lions some fly-half cover too. With Jamie Roberts going off injured in the Munster match last night too the Lions could be looking at another replacement in the centre. Speaking of which, the Sunday Times reported that former Lions scrum half and backs coach Rob Howley was dispatched to watch Chris Cusiter in Perpignan this weekend – bit of a shame as he didn’t seem to get on the pitch. Ian Macgeechan went to watch Danny Care who didn’t have the greatest game either. No word if anyone was watching Blair, as we await the rumoured announcement this week.

UPDATE: The Times is now reporting that Rob Howley was in the crowd for the Edinburgh match, which seems more likely. Someone (in the Murdoch empire) got their info wrong.

Review and Preview

This week has seen Geech face the possibility of a 3 man reshuffle to his Lions squad, with Tom Shanklin now joining Tomas O’ Leary on the injury list and Munster’s Alan Quinlan facing the possibility of a ban for gouging Leo Cullen in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. While there are a couple of Scots in the running to fill the spare 9 shirt in Cusiter and Blair, it is less likely there will be any chance of them filling the other shirts. If Quinlan is banned out of contention, Tom Croft and Ryan Jones (or Dennis Leamy) would be considered the front runners – perhaps Strokosch if he had been fit would have been in with a shout. In the backs, there is no real direct replacement for Shanks (if fit I suppose Tindall has the same amount of hair) but they might look to bring in the likes of D’Arcy or Hook as a different sort of centre. Max Evans is probably an outside bet at this stage I would say, but a demolition derby of the Ospreys at the weekend on his part would certainly help his cause… see below.

No news on when any announcements would be made, but it will probably be after this weekend’s Premiership semi-finals and round of Magners League matches.

Transfer update: Sean Lamont’s move to Llanelli has also been confirmed.

Edinburgh, still chasing an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish – they are currently on course to match that – are at home to the Dragons on Saturday. This match is not being televised. Assuming Edinburgh can beat the Dragons, on Sunday Glasgow could do them a favour by beating the Ospreys away, a result that would take the battle for the last few places down to the final weekend of the season. Ospreys vs Glasgow is on S4C at 2.30 on Sunday. These games offer the second to last opportunity for Scottish players to keep their heads bobbing above water in the Lions standby pool.

Geech To Take His Time

While it won’t surprise you to learn that Scottish Rugby Blog’s preferred choices to fill Tomas O’ Leary’s vacant Lions shirt both hail from these shores, Ian Macgeechan has opted to wait for a week or two before naming a replacement. How will the remaining weeks of the season allow the main candidates to showcase their talents (assuming they all play in all possible games)?

Mike Blair – home game vs the Dragons and away to Cardiff who may choose to concentrate on the Heineken Cup. Plenty of opportunity to show off and guaranteed his spot in the Edinburgh team if fit. Has been steadily improving of late since a poor Six Nations but without being spectacular. Would offer a different kind of scrum-half play to Phillips (who bowled him over in the Ospreys game at the weekend) and potentially restore some magic to the Lions half-backs.

Chris Cusiter – at home to Montauban and away to Castres, plus with USAP topping the table the playoffs to follow. Plenty of opportunity to show he is battle-hardened at the top level if the Lions selectors bother to send anyone to watch him, and if he can secure a starting place in the Perpignan team having already announced his return to Glasgow. The Lions management have apparently asked for him to go on the (European Nations Cup) Scotland A Tour to stay match fit. Came off the bench during a game last weekend that saw Perpignan stage a last-minute fightback against Clermont to clinch victory. The week before he didn’t play and they lost. Coincidence? Such are the straws we love to grab.

Peter Stringer – now in Munster’s hot seat for their Heineken Cup shindig with Leinster at Croker, as well as the last two games of the season vs Cardiff and Ospreys. Will get plenty of opportunity to play in tough matches, but does he have enough to his game in comparison to the others, save a good pass and the extremely occasional bluff if the run is on, like he did to Scotland in the 6N?

Dwayne Peel – having been probably “the best in the world” in his field at the time of the last Lions tour, (just like Lee Byrne is now), Peel’s season is now over with Sale out of the running in European and Domestic competition. Other than the Welsh tour to North America, this offers him little opportunity to stay match fit before a decision is made. Given the Welsh selectors didn’t want to take a chance on his form before the 6N (when he was actually in reasonable form when he played for club and country), will the Lions team follow suit?

Danny Care – Has a Guinness Premiership semi-final vs London Irish and potentially a final too. Probably the in-form man with some high intensity stuff ahead, but can he control his rash streak enough for the Lions selectors?

An announcement should come either this week or next. In other news, heaps of people have applied for the Scotland job including 8 or so definite contenders, and Rory Lamont is rumoured to be following Philipe Saint-Andre to Toulon. Hopefully he won’t get involved in anything like this

British and Irish Lions Squad 2009 – Fewest Scots Ever*

I’ve been kind of excited all morning, so I shudder to think the pain the players have been going through waiting for this announcement.

Backs

Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’ Driscoll, Keith Earls, Rikki Flutey, Ronan O’ Gara, Stephen Jones, Mike Philips, Harry Ellis, Tomas O Leary

Forwards

Jamie Heaslip, Andy Powell, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell (c), Donnacha O’Callaghan, Simon Shaw, Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Matthew Rees

Yup, that’s two. Okay I’m slightly less excited now. Well done to the (mostly) non-scots in the squad, and of course we’ll be keeping up to date as the preparations and tour progress. Looks like we all get to join the Munster red army…

14 Irish
13 Welsh
8 English (there are also 8 Munstermen in the squad)
2 Scots (there are also 2 antipodeans in the squad)

37 total

UPDATE: Few big names missing: Ryan Jones, Tom Croft, James Hook, Mark Cueto, , Dennis Leamy, Mike Blair (nobody really thought Borthwick would go did they?). Do any Scots deserve to be in there ahead of the guys they have though, really? Ross Ford is unlucky I think to lose out to Rees. Powell had a storming autumn but went badly off the boil in the 6 Nations yet he’s on the tour (and probably wouldn’t be replaced by a Scot anyway). If he finds his autumn form it would be hard to argue against him doing some damage in SA though. There are surely better scrum halves than Harry Ellis too (*cough* Cusiter, Blair, Peel *cough*), he’s not even first choice for his club.

Overall it’s an interesting selection and one or two surprises, but if I’m honest there are not that many grounds for complaint really and it looks a pretty strong squad apart from the half backs, with a nice balance.

Maybe if Hadden had been picking on merit early in the season we’d have had a bigger representation. Without wishing injury on anyone, 8 Munster men and 6 Cardiff men still involved in Heineken Cup action before the tour departs, not to mention the 1 Leicester and 4 Leinster boys. It’s basically a whole rugby team plus subs getting through 2 test-level instensity matches un-injured? There may yet be a chance for the odd Scot to have a say in the tour later on.

* DOUBLE UPDATE: it turns out it’s not the lowest “ever”, we had just one representative in 1930. Ireland were the last with 2 in 1993. That makes it 3, 3, and 2 for Scotland over the last few tours (not counting call ups). Not terribly inspiring is it?