Hunting for Lions: Full-back

It’s one of the oldest, most treasured traditions in rugby. The Lions are here again. With head coach Ian McGeechan naming his support team in Dublin last month, the Lions bandwagon has begun to roll towards South Africa, 2009.

Geech will name around 60 players in an initial squad early next year before whittling his selections down to the final group of players to take on the world champions next summer.

Between now and then, we’ll bring you the candidates battling it out for the various positions - starting with full-back.


The Ospreys 15 is surely the man in pole position after starting this season the way he finished the last. He’s no JPR Williams (then who is?), but Byrne is ridiculously brave and accomplished under the high ball, has real pace bursting into the line and offers a serious threat from deep on the counter-attack. Developing into a world class No.15.
Roar potential: Four Lions

Messed about by Ireland under Eddie O’Sullivan who never seemed to be able to decide whether to play the Leicester man at full-back or wing, or not at all, but Murphy remains one of the most outrageously gifted players in the game. Like Byrne, he is great under the high ball and is a genuine match-winner - he can unlock a defence with a clever shimmy, kick or pass. But Murphy is also prone to dropping clangers. Ian McGeechan, though, is not afraid of taking risks.
Roar potential: Three Lions

When we ran this feature in the magazine back in November, Armitage was yet to establish himself as England’s main man at No.15. But the London Irish tyro quickly bolted into contention for McGeechan’s Test side with four fantastic performances in the autumn internationals. Sure under the high ball, incisive in attack and with a boot good enough to drop long range goals and hammer over lengthy penalties, it has been an outstanding start to his international career.
Roar potential: Three Lions

If points are your aim, the Scot is your man. The most prolific kicker in world rugby, Paterson also has startling acceleration over 20 metres and a clever rugby brain. But he has been messed about even more than Murphy, with Scots coach Frank Hadden preferring to stick him on the wing. A disappointing season in the Premiership with Gloucester last year set him back.
Roar potential: One Lion

He won’t thank us for saying it, but the Gloucester No.15 is the forgotten man of English rugby after a series of injuries halted his development following his debut for England in the Six Nations against Scotland in 2007. A big unit at 6ft 2in and 14st 2lbs, Morgan has made an outstanding start to the Premiership season and if he forces his way back into the England reckoning, he could be a Lions bolter.
Roar potential: Two Lions

The 21-year-old Munster youngster is already being hailed as the golden boy of Irish rugby and he hasn’t even settled in a regular position after being shunted from centre to full-back in the Heineken Cup this season. It’s unfair to apply so much pressure on his young shoulders, but he has bags of pace and has the priceless ability of seeming to be able to score tries at will. He could be a real dark horse.
Roar potential: Two Lions

‘Mr Reliable’, the Irishman has always gone about his job quietly and efficiently, without frills or fuss. In and out of the Ireland side over the last 10 years thanks to the competition from Geordan Murphy, it’s testimony to his reliability and durability that Ireland turn to him time and again - and he has never ever let them down. However, a lack of pace could be exposed out in South Africa.
Roar potential: One Lion