Shane Williams has been drafted into the British & Irish Lions squad to play the ACT Brumbies on Tuesday.
The former Wales wing, and record try scorer, is currently playing for Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan and will start on the left wing for the Lions on Tuesday.
Joining him in the back three will be Christian Wade. Wade was also called up yesterday after news began to filter through that George Northâ€™s injury might be worse than was initially feared.
The young England flyer had been due to start for his country against Argentina last night but was instead whisked onto the first available flight to Australia in order to be available for selection for Tuesdayâ€™s encounter. Rob Kearney completes the trio; he starts his first game of the tour at full back.
As if two shock call-ups were not enough, a third call up was made yesterday when England centre Brad Barritt was summoned from his holiday in the USA. The Saracens man, who has been rested by England, comes in after Jamie Roberts injured his hamstring in yesterdayâ€™s victory over the NSW Waratahs.
Barritt will partner another newcomer, Billy Twelvetrees (who arrived in midweek), in a backline that bears almost no resemblance to anything the Lions management could have predicted when they boarded in Heathrow three weeks ago.
However it is the arrival of Williams that has shocked more than anything, the Welshman has not played an international since he retired from international rugby in December 2011.
Warren Gatland explained though that the wingerâ€™s call up had been one of necessity as he was the only player that could be brought in quick enough, once they had decided they needed another winger. Williams is now based in Japan and was travelling to Australia on Monday anyway as he is due to be doing radio commentary for the Test series.
Explaining the call up, Gatland said: “We just said we needed him for one game. He is already halfway here and part of the reasoning behind that is that he is still playing.”
“We spoke to Shane and just said the proviso is he comes in Monday, trains, plays on Tuesday and he leaves the squad on Wednesday. He was perfectly happy with that.â€
“We know that he’s fit and in training – he’s been boxing as well, although hopefully that’s not needed on Tuesday- and I’m sure he’ll come in and do the jersey proud and do himself proud.â€
While Williams may only be a temporary replacement, Wade and Barritt are definitely with the squad for the long term, with injuries on the wing and at centre really stacking up for the Lions now:
“We just went through picking a team last night, trying to look through the looking glass towards Saturday a little bit and thinking about the players. The decision was made in terms of Christian and Brad to bring them in.â€
“We felt that there were a number of players who were either sore or had backed up and, again, if you look at our back three we felt we were pretty short there at the moment. To give us the best chance for next week, rather than potentially playing someone on Saturday, Tuesday, then Saturday, we thought we’d be proactive and call someone in now.”
“Today is a recovery day and we will train tomorrow. We realise it is going to be tough on a few players, but Billy and Brad know each other pretty well, and I think Shane will fit pretty well into our game-plan.”
“Fingers crossed with Jamie. He has never pulled a hamstring before and he is not 100% sure whether that is the injury. We’re hoping Manu is going to be fit, but at the moment his shoulder’s still sore. He’s out in training and we’re hoping he’s going to be fit and available for Saturday.â€
“Players like Sean Maitland, who is sore after last night, have had three games in a row. We are trying to give potentially our Test side the best possible chance of being fit. We want to have everyone fresh to try to win the first Test match.â€
“The forwards seem to be holding themselves together, and unfortunately the backs are the ones who are taking all the knocks. It is something I haven’t really experienced in the past.â€
“When you look at probably the most attritional position out of all them, the loose forwards, they are all fit and running and ready to go. It is just one of those things that happens. The games have been tough and physical and Saturday night was no different to anything else we would have expected.”
It is a measure of just how exciting/surprising the call ups are that a second start at fly half for Stuart Hogg, this time against top class opposition, has been relegated to a mere side story. His partnership with Ben Youngs could potentially be very exciting, but is fraught with risk against one of the top Australian sides.
The forwards are as most would have predicted, the most revealing part of their selection is the indications that it gives in terms of Warren Gatlandâ€™s thinking on his Test side.
The selection of Toby Faletau at 8 and Sean Oâ€™Brien at 6 would appear to settle the number eight debate, Jamie Heaslip will surely now start against Australia. Richie Grayâ€™s selection in the second row means he will also probably miss out. Rory Best captains the side from hooker. The make up of the bench, almost identical to Saturday with Zebo and Murray swapping with Youngs and Kearney, suggest that it is also something very similar to the one that will appear against Australia.
British & Irish Lions squad to face ACT Brumbies:
15. Rob Kearney 14. Christian Wade 13. Brad Barritt 12. Billy Twelvetrees 11. Shane Williams 10. Stuart Hogg 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Ryan Grant 2. Rory Best (c) 3. Matt Stevens 4. Ian Evans 5. Richie Gray 6. Sean Oâ€™Brien 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Toby Faletau.
Replacements: 16. Richard Hibbard 17. Alex Corbisiero 18. Dan Cole 19. Geoff Parling 20. Dan Lydiate 21. Conor Murray 22. Owen Farrell 23. Simon Zebo.