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Representative Rugby

One for the Romantics

When Christian Wade got on his plane to Australia yesterday he probably thought he would be the centre of a media storm when he landed.

First of all he has just one England cap, last weekend against Argentina, second of all, he is the rising star in English rugby.

So it will come as a surprise to him when he lands that all of the attention and questioning is centred on another diminutive speedster on the wing – Welsh legend Shane Williams, called up while Wade was in the air.

That is the pace at which developments have been happening on this Lions tour, no sooner is one story delivered than another one begins; it is relentless.

Williams’ call up is a sign of just how bad the Lions injury problems are. Some have suggested that his call up is a kick in the teeth for other British and Irish wingers, after all, Williams has been playing in Japan and retired from international rugby over 18 months ago.

They are wrong though; Williams’ call up is simply a matter of practicality. The Lions injury problems are such that they needed to get someone in who could get there in time to train and play on Tuesday, and who was also fit to do so.

Williams is playing in Japan, and has also been doing some boxing, so he is fit. He was also already arriving in Australia from Japan on Monday as he was due to be doing radio commentary. The management also only wanted a player from Monday through to Wednesday, as they knew that their call up would have no chance of a Test call.

Williams was prepared to play under those circumstances and as a 2009 Lion he also understands the ethos of the camp and the ‘team first’ attitude that is required, particularly for his role.

The Welsh record try scorer demonstrated as much when giving his reaction to the call up, saying:

“I never thought I would ever get this opportunity again, but if me contributing on Tuesday is going to help the Lions squad be successful in the three Tests then that is what I am here to do.”

“I’m over the moon, and what I will do on the field is give 100% effort and commitment and do whatever it takes to help the team out.”

“If I had any doubt whatsoever that I wasn’t capable or good enough then I would have said no, because there is no way I will let the Lions down.”

The selection of Williams has sparked memories of 2001, where Scotland’s Andy Nicol was called into the squad for the final Test.

Nicol had been leading a supporters tour throughout the series and by his own admission it had been a rather alcohol fuelled trip, but his proximity to the Lions meant that he was the only practical selection.

Williams selection may not be quite in that category but it is certainly a shock, in an odd sort of way though it rather typifies what the Lions are all about, fighting through adversity and stirring the emotions. As Jake White said when announcing his Brumbies side for Tuesday: “The Lions are one of rugby’s last romantic sides.” This is certainly a selection for the romantics.

One imagines that Sky Sports video montage editors are rather pleased about it too.

What does Williams’ selection really say about the Lions though?

Well, it says that their injury crisis is just that, a crisis. News on Jamie Roberts’ hamstring is expected today but frankly anything less than being ruled out of the tour will be a delightful shock.

George North is rated as 50/50 at best to be fit for the first Test; Tommy Bowe will not be fit until at least the second.

Manu Tuilagi is still struggling with his shoulder injury, though he is at least back in training, while Alex Cuthbert and Sean Maitland have been so heavily involved of late that they desperately need to rest, lest they join the list of the walking wounded too.

Brian O’Driscoll is a little sore still from Tuesday, however with him it is more about protection ahead of the first, at 34 asking him to play on Tuesday and then on Saturday is more than a touch unreasonable.

What is has helped the coaches with, bizarrely, is that they have now been able to select a backline for Tuesday which enables them to utterly protect their likely starting backline for the first Test, something which they may not have been expecting to be able to do.

When all is said and done, a Lions tour is about doing everything possible to win the Test series. So as Shane Williams said: “If me contributing on Tuesday is going to help the Lions squad be successful in the three Tests then that is what I am here to do.”

Let us all hope that it does help, and in the meantime, who can honestly say that they are not just a little bit excited about seeing the little maestro pull on that famous red jersey?

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