Sport Lions Tour

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Gatland defends Williams call as Best takes armband for Brumbies clash

Conor George

Conor George

RORY BEST'S delight at captaining the Lions against the Brumbies in Canberra tomorrow night will be tempered by the realisation that he is unlikely to be involved in the first Test on Saturday – despite coach Warren Gatland's insistence that there will be players involved both tomorrow and at the weekend.

The Ulster hooker was maintaining a positive outlook – "it's a massive honour for me to be captaining the side" – but being named captain of the midweek team is a poisoned chalice in many respects.

Best's call-up to the Lions squad is an example of what can happen at a moment's notice and the possibility of another late twist is something he is clinging to ahead of tomorrow night's game.

"I think until the Test side is announced you have to believe you're in with a chance," said Best.

"Tuesday night is another opportunity to put your hand up and make the coaches sit up and take notice. The opportunity is there for us. Warren has said that the Test side isn't picked, that players will be involved Tuesday and Saturday and that is the motivation for us all.

"The way I look at it is that you're in the shirt on Tuesday night. It's a tough ask but you have a chance to stay in the shirt with your performance. We'll all give it our best shot and see what comes of it."

Best is joined in the side by his Ireland team-mates Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien, while Conor Murray and Simon Zebo are included among the replacements.

England centre Billy Twelvetrees, who arrived in Sydney on Friday, will make his Lions debut alongside Brad Barritt, who joins the tour today from America where he was on vacation.

Former Wales and Lions wing Shane Williams – who is playing in Japan and who has received a late call-up – will start on the left wing while England wing Christian Wade, who made his Test debut last weekend against Argentina, will play on the right. Williams has been drafted in on a temporary basis, according to Gatland, in order to offer the back three players some respite.

"We spoke to Shane and offered him the chance to join the squad for the game and leave us then on Wednesday," explained Gatland.

"He was happy to do that. You never rule anything out 100pc but with Tommy Bowe coming back we should be well covered after this week. The reasoning behind the short-term call-up is to hopefully avoid any more injuries on Tuesday night."

Gatland reiterated his promise that there are places still to be won in the Test team and squad, although for the first time he did admit that the Test team has begun to take shape in his head at least.

"There is an element in the selection for the game against the Brumbies of having a Test team/squad and working back from that," he said.

"But there will be players involved on Tuesday night and again on Saturday. This game is very much an opportunity for players to put their hands up and say that they want to be in the Test team.

"It's up to them to make us sit up and take notice."

For a player with a competitive instinct as honed as Best's, he will certainly take Gatland at his word while revelling in the honour of becoming the third Irishman to captain the Lions on this tour. "I'm exceptionally proud to be captaining the side. It's a massive honour and hugely exciting," said Best.

"It's going to be a very tough game. The Brumbies are a great side and will be determined to end our unbeaten run. It's up to us to make sure that doesn't happen."

For their part, the Brumbies have been able to include Wallabies' squad members Peter Kimlin and Scott Sio in their team for tomorrow night's game.

Andrew Smith has also been included at inside-centre in his first match since straining his hamstring against the Highlanders in round nine.

He comes into the side for Pat McCabe, who has been included in the Wallabies squad. Mark Swanepoel has been named on the bench, with Ian Prior to start in place of Nic White who has a fractured scapular. The team will be skippered by Kimlin, who led the Brumbies to victory in the absence of White two weeks ago against the Rebels.

In 2001, minus the majority of their stars who were away with the Wallabies, the Brumbies went painstakingly close to knocking the Lions over at Canberra Stadium.

A late try by Austin Healey saved the Lions, who won 30-28, but it was a moment Brumbies supporters have not forgotten and they will be hoping their side can go one better tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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