Welsh Lions Leigh Halfpenny, James Hook and Andy Powell will make their first starts in a Lions jersey when the tourists take on the Cheetahs tomorrow (Saturday 6 June, 2pm UK time).
Halfpenny, who joined the Lions in South Africa this week after staying in Wales to get back to full fitness after suffering with a thigh injury, will make his Lions debut, while Hook and Powell both came off the bench in the side's 74-10 thrashing of the Golden Lions on Wednesday evening. Ospreys Lee Byrne and Shane Williams have been handed their second starts of the tour after helping the Lions to a 37-25 victory of the Royal XV last Saturday.
Welsh front row players Adam Jones and Matthew Rees take up places on the bench for the Bloemfontain encounter.
Lions captain Paul O'Connell returns to lead his troops after sitting out Wednesday night's game, while fellow Irishmen Luke Fitzgerald and Donncha O'Callaghan will also pull on the Lions jersey for the first time.
WRU Board director Gerald Davies, British and Irish Lions tour manager said, "The starting XV to play the Cheetahs is an interesting one with club and country combinations in many areas. The boys who played against the Golden Lions put down a marker in terms of the way we want to play and I know those playing against the Cheetahs will be very keen to keep the momentum going and produce another strong Lions performance."
Commenting on the team selection Head Coach Ian McGeechan said, "With the selection of Donncha O'Callaghan, Leigh Halfpenny and Luke Fitzgerald in the starting XV it means that all the squad players will have taken to the field according to plan. We also have new arrival Gordon D'Arcy on the bench which gives him a chance to get straight into the action."
"Although there are no players backing up from the starting XV against the Golden Lions several of the replacements who saw action in that match have now been selected for their first start. For the Cheetahs match Andy Powell, Stephen Ferris, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Harry Ellis and James Hook are all in the starting XV team for the first time."
"The team includes an all Welsh back three, an Irish combination in midfield and a Munster second row pairing. We are also are continuing to build partnerships and combinations among the players from the four nations and this is reflected in the front row where Scottish team-mates Euan Murray and Ross Ford will pack down in the front row alongside Andrew Sheridan, and the backrow where three players from three different nations will play alongside each other."
British and Irish Lions v Cheetahs:
Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland), Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales); James Hook (Ospreys/Wales), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks / England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh / Scotland), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints / Scotland), Donncha O'Collaghan (Munster / Ireland), Paul O'Connell (capt, Munster / Ireland), Stephen Ferris (Ulster / Ireland), Joe Worsley (London Wasps / England), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues / Wales).
Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England), Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland), Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland), Ronan O'Gara (Munster/Ireland), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.