Lions will need a prop up to fight Boks' fire with fire.
Just as predicted Ian McGeechan's Irish and British Lions squad contained the odd left-field selection or three.
In fact the inclusion on the tour to South Africa of Munster flank forward Alan Quinlan isn't so much left-field, as ten rows back from deep square leg, down the stairs, out to the concourse, into the toilets, in the end cubicle and under the cistern cover.
The 34-year-old has just two Test starts in four years though his form for his province is probably not far below international level. That is not to say there are not younger models who should feel slightly aggrieved about missing out.
Simon Shaw's is also being reported as a surprise pick. It shouldn't. The venerable second row was one of England's best players in the Six Nations and with the pre-eminent lock-set in world rugby waiting for the Lions to step into their den, men of Shaw's undeniable presence should are well worth their ticket..
In fact McGeechan's intention not to be bullied by Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and their like, is clear from Shaw's inclusion.
With Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan and Nathan Hines accompanied by the footballing forward Alun Wyn Jones, the former Scotland coach has recognised the need to fight Bokke fire with British fire. It is about the only area of his squad where McGeechan can claim to have resources sufficiently deep to match the world champions.
There is, however, one area where they can claim superiority to the hosts - at prop.
The competition for the Test shirt at loosehead is going to be intense. Andrew Sheridan is returning to his physical best and Gethin Jenkins has been operating on a level way above any other in recent months.
Whether the Welshman has the scrummaging prowess to disrupt South Africa is something he must prove and at this stage Jenkins might be more suited to coming off the bench once Sheridan has tenderised his opposite number and the game has broken up a bit.
No one could really argue if they were used the other way round.
Elsewhere the cupboard looks a tad bare.
In an explanation of his selectoral rationale, McGeechan claimed that although his coaching team had 'taken a look' at performances in November, meetings were actually held after three rounds of the Six Nations and at the end of the tournament. That's how Shaw made it.
Quite how he could have picked Andy Powell and Shane Williams on that basis then is beyond me. Powell looked more like a spent force than a force to be reckoned with, in the Welsh back row and he's not even Cardiff's No 1 No 8.
Who does Dai Young turn to for big matches and cup finals? Xavier Rush.
Powell played just 20 minutes against Gloucester and a mere 15 against Toulouse in recent EDF and Heineken Cup ties.
Ideally you want every player in your squad to compete for a Test spot and Powell has got less chance of playing eight than Irish openside David Wallace.
If he's being looked at with a view to operating at blindside surely Tom Croft would have brought more pace and versatility.
Also I have taken my life in my hands before and questioned Williams' divine right to selection. He should not have been named IRB Player of the Year for 2008 and since then he's done all he can to prove me right.
He probably just about deserves a place in the squad but only because of what he did with his country in South Africa last summer and not because of anything he's produced since.
Bryan Habana will be desperate to set the record straight and - assuming he plays - Habana's giant wing partner JP Pietersen will look forward to gobbling Williams up just as he did in Cardiff in the autumn.
But such issues are mere deck-chair rearranging. This series will be won - and lost - by what happens at halfback.
As I wrote last week there were only two candidates, Stephen Jones and Ronan O'Gara and McGeechan has agreed by taking just these two.
We were all hoping the much needed left-field selection might come at fly half. .
Nicky Robinson has timed his run too late, Danny Cipriani has not timed his at all and the deficiencies in Toby Flood's game would not outweigh the positives in such an exalted arena.
Most recent squads have taken three stand-offs. Charlie Hodgson came from last place to emerge as the pick of the bunch in 2005, and with Gregor Townsend, Mike Catt, Neil Jenkins and even Austin Healey there were four the last time the Lions were on the high veldt. Two just isn't enough and I would be at all surprised to see a late call-up in the position.
Inside Mike Phillips is still some way below his best and I just don't get Tomas O'Leary. Let's hope the tiresomely combative Harry Ellis emerges as the leading contender for scrum half duties.
If McGeechan can't fashion an effective partnership and do so early, the Lions could be back with their tails between the legs for a second tour running.
birminghampost.net/sport Disagree with Brian's assessment? Leave a comment on his blog " Williams should not have been named IRB Player of the Year and since then he's done all he can to prove me right
Simon Shaw's selection should not come as such a surprise
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Apr 23, 2009|
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