Ian McGeechan has challenged the British and Irish Lions not to make his job easy when he contemplates Test team selection.
Head coach McGeechan insists the race for Test places is “still wide open” approaching tomorrow’s encounter against Western Province at Newlands.
The Lions then face a newly-formed Southern Kings side in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, after which the Test line-up to face South Africa tomorrow week will be finalised.
The popular theory is that nailed-on Test certainties like skipper Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips, Lee Mears and Jamie Heaslip will not be seen in action again until Durban.
A handful of leading Test candidates take the field tomorrow, while strong performances from the likes of lock Nathan Hines and flanker Martyn Williams could leave them firmly in contention.
“It is still wide open,” said McGeechan.
“As coaches, we have said everyone is still playing for those places.
“We can’t have a fixed idea yet, because some of these players will only be starting their second game and we have to give them a fair chance. So it will take the six games to form our judgement.
“This is the shortest (Lions) tour ever, and we have to make sure we use every game, otherwise I don’t think I am being fair to the players.
“We won’t have played together (before the first Test), but I have never hidden the fact that was going to be the case. We have to be open-minded about what we see on the field.
“There are still opportunities for players to be part of the Test side, even if they start on Tuesday.
“I don’t want easy decisions next week because I want players to be challenging us as coaches.”
The Lions, following a shaky tour opener against the Royal XV in Rustenburg, are now building impressively towards their opening Springboks showdown.
And McGeechan has offered an insight into how his management team will approach the Test selection task.
“We have a good mix of conversations,” he added.
“That is why I picked the management team that we have because we know each other well and we can be honest with each other and talk things through.
“We don’t vote, but there will be some interesting discussions. We have never voted yet, and we don’t anticipate that we will.
“When you come towards a Test match the environment will change and the tensions will rise.
“A Lions Test series in South Africa is quite unique, and I think everyone understands that. It will build quite nicely.”