Earls and Quinlan among the bolters


Lions squad: Most had an opinion, but few envied Ian McGeechan's task of selecting 37 players from four countries to face the Springboks. Not everyone is going to like it, but the time to judge him and those he has put his faith in is after the final whistle on July 4th.

Ireland's unprecedented 14-strong contingent is deserved recognition of their Grand Slam winning season but in Keith Earls and more interestingly Alan Quinlan, the Scot has thrown a bit of a curve ball.

Earls was not a part of the Six Nations heroics and his try-scoring debut against a woeful Canadian side remains his only cap for Ireland to date. That said, he has been outstanding for Munster across the backline this season and was widely tipped as a wild card for inclusion.

His 34-year-old Munster team-mate Quinlan will be a little more surprised after admitting on radio recently he had given up all hope of travelling to South Africa.

However, while he too did not feature in the Six Nations, he has played 18 times for Munster this season and still plays a pivotal role for the European champions, belying his age and proving his fitness recently in finishing out his last three games.

Like Earls, he is likely to have to play himself into a Test side with a big midweek performance, but his experience and engine have obviously counted in his favour thus far, though it will be a bitter pill to swallow for Denis Leamy and Tom Croft, who was outstanding for England this year.

Of the remaining Irish, scrumhalf Tomás O'Leary could be counted as a surprise by some, but he was arguably the pick of the bunch in the Six Nations and the inclusion of England's Harry Ellis ahead of Scotland's Mike Blair is more of an eyebrow raiser.

O'Leary is also very familiar with outhalf Ronan O'Gara who will undoubtedly be a big part of McGeechan's plans.

Welshman Leigh Halfpenny and England's Ugo Monye are also included in what must have been tight calls against the likes of Delon Armitage, Paul Sackey and Mark Cueto.

Both, though, are bright, confident prospects and along with Earls could announce themselves to the wider rugby community on tour if given the chance.

In the pack, McGeechan has bulked up and there are fewer contentious decisions.

Wales's Andy Powell has ball carrying ability and speed off the back of the scrum but he caused his side as many problems as he did the opposition with some ill-advised decision-making during the Six Nations and is mite lucky to be included ahead of his own captain Ryan Jones. Though the latter, who was once a frontrunner for the captaincy, had a poor season by his high standards.

Their compatriot Matthew Rees is the most surprising of the 13-man Welsh representation and could well have lost out to either Rory Best or Ross Ford as back up for hooker Jerry Flannery.

England's Simon Shaw has 11 Lions caps to his name after travelling to South Africa in 1997 and to New Zealand in 2005, but prior to this season the 35-year-old would not have been considered by most to be on course to reach a dozen appearances, especially ahead of captain Steve Borthwick, who weathered some fierce criticism to wrest his side back from the brink this year.

Marginal decisions are part of what make the Tour, however. See Jeremy Davidson's contribution in 1997 for evidence of that.

While his countrymen will not thank him for picking just two Scots, in Nathan Hines and Euan Murray, few can argue if the tough, unpopular calls produce a series win against the world champions.