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Lions weekly news round-up

Lions weekly news round-up

The home nations are building up to September’s World Cup, which is now just six weeks away, and we are here to wrap up the week’s goings on with a particular focus on the British & Irish Lions involved.

The home nations are building up to September’s World Cup, which is now just six weeks away, and we are here to wrap up the week’s goings on with a particular focus on the British & Irish Lions involved.

Wales

With Wales and Ireland playing their first warm-up game this weekend, the World Cup is edging ever closer and one British & Irish Lion admits it is crunch-time for him in terms of selection.

Mike Phillips was a member of both the 2009 and 2013 Lions touring parties but now faces a fight just to make Wales’ 31-man final squad.

The 32-year-old is his country’s most-capped scrum-half, having made 93 appearances, but with Rhys Webb firmly-entrenched as first-choice No.9, he is competing with Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams for a spot.

Phillips has a golden opportunity to make a positive impression when he starts at the Millennium Stadium against Ireland on Saturday and knows he must shine in that game, as well as upcoming fixtures with Ireland in Dublin and Italy in Cardiff.

“I'm sure some players are nailed-on. I'm probably one of those that has to impress in these games,” he explained.

“Any opportunity you get on the field, you've got to impress and that's what these games are all about.”

Phillips’ experience might appear to give him an edge over his rivals but Wales attack coach Rob Howley, himself a Lion in 2001, claims the veteran won’t be receiving any favours from the coaching staff.

“You can say firmly Rhys Webb is the stand-out nine, he's been outstanding,” said Howley. “With the other three nines it's a competition and it's an equal competition.

“Mike has got a great opportunity and he knows he's under pressure – they're all under pressure to perform.

“For Mike it's about control and accuracy when the ball is there, so we are able to play a high-octane game and at pace and back our fitness.

“We need our nine getting to the breakdown quickly getting the ball away accurately so we can move onto the next phase.”
 
Ireland

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will also use Saturday’s run-out as an opportunity to assess many of his squad with long-term injury absentees Andrew Trimble, Donnacha Ryan and 2009 Lion Keith Earls all set to pull on the famous green jersey once again.

Once man who won’t be playing is prop Cian Healy as he continues his recovery from neck surgery.

The 2013 Lion may well only return to the field at the end of August but Schmidt is adamant he doesn’t necessarily have to play any of the warm-up games to be named in the World Cup squad.

Schmidt said: “As a group, the coaches have spoken a fair bit about it. Obviously [scrum coach] Greg Feek is important in any of those decisions about the front row as is [forwards coach] Simon Easterby.

“We are very much working week to week with Cian. He is fully participating in some sessions.

“He did an individual session today so he is mixing that up. We are just hoping the picture gets clearer as we get closer so we can make a decision that would see him fully fit to start the tournament, even if he doesn’t play prior to it.

“One of the things is we play [England at Twickenham] two weeks before the first game. If we thought that he might not be fit for England but would be fit by Canada that would be part of the decision-making process.”
 
England

England’s preparations for a home World Cup are also ramping up with coach Stuart Lancaster expected to reduce his squad by eight or nine players later today.

The final 31-man group will then be named on August 31 ahead of their opening fixture against Fiji at Twickenham on September 18.

2013 British & Irish Lions tourist Geoff Parling is unlikely to be a part of Friday’s cuts but the lock concedes that the atmosphere in camp has changed as judgement day approaches.

“It hasn't got tenser because we always knew the squad would be cut down, but the rugby has got more competitive,” explained Parling.

“There will be some tough decisions to make, but the lads are trying not to think about that and are focusing on doing the best they can to stay in the squad.

“This is probably the start of the World Cup in a way. There hasn't been much media to do, but that will grow and grow now.

“It was good to get away to Denver for our training camp, but we knew that once we got back it would really get going.”

Scotland

Scotland begin their World Cup campaign against Japan at Kingsholm on September 23 and a pair of British & Irish Lions look set to fight it out for the starting full-back berth in that contest.

As two of Scotland’s most explosive backs, Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland both toured Australia with the Lions in 2013.

Both men can play in multiple positions across the backline, with Maitland particularly comfortable on the wing, but the duo appear to be in line for a straight shoot-out for the No.15 jersey after Edinburgh back Greig Tonks removed himself from the competition.

The 26-year-old currently has four Scotland caps to his name and admits he has his heart set on playing fly-half for his country.

“I'd like to play fly-half. I want to play ten,” Tonks told BBC Scotland.

“I've played a lot of rugby at full-back. I do enjoy playing there, but going forward I've really enjoyed the opportunities I've had at fly-half, particularly at Edinburgh.

“We ground out some good tough wins away when I was playing ten. We had some good results, so I was comfortable.

“You get to control things a little bit more, and have a little bit more say in structure, patterns, and the way you play.

“You get to be more vocal, put your own stamp on the game, and have a bit more of an influence, which I quite like.

“The coaches will want everyone to try and showcase what they can do. No-one's been given any guarantees, but I'm sure that's what Vern will try and do.”

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