By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
It’s been a familiar story for the Lions. An encouraging result against some questionable opposition marred by a host of knocks and tweaks that require a few days in cotton wool. What happened after Saturday’s game with the New South Wales Waratahs certainly wasn’t expected however.
While the rugby world expected Warren Gatland to piece together a patchwork team of ‘utility backs’ for the final warm-up game before the First Test, he had something altogether more surprising in mind.
Despite retiring from international rugby 18 months ago, Shane Williams will start for the Lions in Tuesday’s match against the ACT Brumbies. The winger with the twinkliest toes in European rugby is still playing for the Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan’s imaginatively called ‘Top League’ and will provide very short-term cover for the Lions.
It’s a surprising move, but one backed by logic. With so many backs nursing injuries, giving them a few extra days rest won’t do any harm. Gatland didn’t sound like a man racked with self-doubt, telling us that Williams is still in the right shape to represent the historic team.
He’s in pretty good nick, he’s been boxing as well, hopefully that won’t be needed on Tuesday
Williams boasts a good record from his previous two Lions tours in 2005 and 2009. He has:
- Scored 40 points in 13 total appearances for the Lions
- Managed two tries in four Tests
- A share in the ‘most tries in a Lions match’ record, scoring five against Manawatu in 2005
Despite the impressive record, any thoughts of Williams hanging around on the off-chance of winning a place in the Test team look to be misjudged, with the winger making a whistle-stop trip to Canberra for Tuesday’s game before flying out again on Wednesday to return to Japan.
Even allowing for the surprise addition, Williams’ former Wales and Lions team-mate, Gareth Thomas is predicting a defeat for the tourists in that Brumbies game.
Long before the tour began, I had this down as a defeat for the Lions. It’s unavoidable. Being named in the team to face the Brumbies means you’re not starting in the first Test and that’s incredibly deflating for the players. They’ll give it their all, but it’s too much to overcome. Against a good Brumbies team, the winning run will come to an end.
The Lions are five from five on tour so far, but Thomas, who captained the Lions for two Tests on the 2005 tour to New Zealand, doesn’t think defeat would impact the series against Australia.
It won’t effect our chances in the Tests, but after being in the squad in 2005 and knowing how some of the players who weren’t in the Test XV reacted in the final warm-up game, I can’t see it happening any other way.