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Battle of the pride

IT IS always more informative to find out how others view us from the outside, rather than how we see ourselves in the mirror.

When legendary British & Irish Lions Barry John and Graham Price sat down one afternoon shortly after the conclusion of this year's Six Nations, they argued the toss over their choices for next year's Lions Test series in Australia.

Of course, it was a shot in the dark, a reflection of what they believe to be the best XV at this moment in time.

An educated bar-stool conversation, if you will, because so much can happen in the next 14 months.

Just take a look at Jamie Roberts. He is out for six months and misses the Cardiff Blues Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

This leaves a gaping hole in their midfield. The termination of Gavin Henson's contract leaves nothing more than a gaping hole in the Cardiff gossip columns.

Interestingly, prop Price, one-third of the famous and infamous Pontypridd front-row beside Charlie Faulkner and Bobby Windsor, backed an Irishman for full-back.

"At this moment in time, Irishman Rob Kearney would get the Test spot at full-back because he has the most experience. Also, he's excellent under the high ball and he's shown good form in attack," he said.

This was met with an agreement to disagree by fly-half John, known as 'King John' for his exquisite manipulation of defences and as, for some, the greatest 10 of all time.


"Kearney has had a fantastic tournament, but I'd have to go with Leigh Halfpenny because he is familiar with those who would most likely be around him and the way they play," said John.

"Plus, of course, he is turning into an expert goal-kicker. Kearney doesn't have that extra string to his bow."

On Saturday, the front-runners for next year's Lions side - England's Ben Foden might have something to say - will spend the Heineken Cup quarter-final further apart than any other players on the pitch.

The last man back has to provide all the security of an electric fence and the composure of a classical music conductor. One mistake and his cover is blown.

There is pressure to spread an air of authority and calm so that the players in front of them won't turn with worry when Leinster's Jonathan Sexton or Cardiff's Ceri Sweeney or Dan Parks - it is not clear which will be selected - sends the ball high and long in the general direction of Kearney and Halfpenny.

Kearney has returned from a serious injury to recapture the form that made him the British & Irish Lion Test full-back in 2009, ahead of another Welshman, Lee Byrne. His aerial prowess has always been a flying thing of beauty. It is his willingness to counter-attack, even unsupported, that has been the most accurate measure of his improvement. His confidence has soared, as surely as he has into the sky, in pursuit of the ball.


The shorter, less-imposing Halfpenny has settled in at full-back as a clever footballer with the speed of a winger and a metronomic goal-kicking action.

While Leinster are odds-on to keep their ambition of back-to-back Heineken Cups on track, they would do well to steer the ball clear of Grand Slam winner Halfpenny.

The Aviva will hold no fears for him. It was where he kick-started his Six Nations with a late winner against Ireland and followed it with two tries against Scotland, 14 points against England and a match-saving tackle on David Strettle during that Twickenham encounter.

It is a quarter-final perfectly set up for two outstanding full-backs. Prospective British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland will be watching.