Welsh voices join forces to congratulate Welsh Lions
21 April 2009 16:06pm
Wales caretaker coach Robin McBryde has welcomed the selection of 13 Welshmen for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa this summer and will immediately start to pen the names for his own squad to tour Canada and America at the end of next month.
Ian McGeechan's loss could be McBryde's gain when it comes to those who have missed out on a spot in the squad to face the Springboks, but the focus today, for the former Wales hooker and Lions tourist, is to join the other top voices in Welsh rugby in wishing the 37-man tour party well and sending his congratulations to all those players making the trip to face the World Champions.
"All 13 deserve a great deal of credit for the hard work they have put into rugby both on and off the field allowing each of them the opportunity to take part in a tour which should be one of the highlights of an international career," said McBryde.
"Any player would relish the opportunity to tour with the Lions, but the Welsh players won't stop there, every one of them will be wanting to make that Test side and they will all know they stand a chance if they can put their hands up during the tour - they know the Lions coaches will reward them if they can show good form.
"Everyone in the Wales camp would like to wish the players all the very best. We would also like to commend our fellow coaches at the different Regions in Wales for the work they have done in supporting the international squad and the contributions they have made to producing 13 Welsh Lions - with six Blues, six Ospreys and two Scarlets we can all be very proud."
Blues head coach David Young said: "To be selected for the British and Irish Lions is the greatest honour a player can achieve and I'm sure it's a proud moment for all the players and their families.
"We at the Cardiff Blues are delighted for all the players from our squad that have been selected, but also feel for the ones that didn't make it.
"South Africa is a difficult place to go, but over recent years the northern hemisphere sides have played them a lot more often than they did in 1997. There will be no surprises for them and they are more than capable of getting the right result."
Ospreys head coach Sean Holley said: "Today is about the players that have been selected for the trip and the nation will be united in sending our congratulations out to each and every one of them. For the Ospreys Welsh internationals Adam (Jones), Alun-Wyn (Jones), Mike (Phillips), Shane (Williams) and Lee (Byrne) have received an accolade from the Lions selectors for the season they have had so far, they are a credit to the Region and to Welsh rugby and everyone at Ospreylia is extremely proud of their achievement, as well as that of Ireland's Tommy (Bowe)."
Scarlets head coach Nigel Davies said: "Stephen (Jones) is very special to us and everyone in Wales knows what a great servant he has been to the Scarlets and to the national game, in my view he is the stand-out fly-half in the Northern Hemisphere and up there with the very best players to have ever played the game. Matthew (Rees) has been a consistent performer for the Region for a number of seasons, he has the physicality and all round ability to do a great job at the top level of the game and we know neither player will let anyone down if the Lions call upon them at Test-match time."
Welsh Rugby Union and Six Nations chairman David Pickering added: "Rugby in Wales is in a good place, we are going from strength to strength and intend to continue in that vein.
"We have achieved a consistency in our performances at international level that has not been seen for some time in Wales with a Grand Slam in 2008 and ensuring we were still in with a chance of retaining the Championship right down to the last game last season.
"The Irish were deserved and impressive Grand Slam Champions in the end and they rightly make up a large proportion of the Lions tour party, but Wales has not been overlooked.
"The performances of the Blues in the EDF Energy Cup and so far in the Heineken Cup have caught the eye and it is no surprise that six players from that region have been selected, the Blues can be particularly proud of themselves. The six players from the Ospreys have also been rewarded for their hard work, dedication and talents and there is no one better than Stephen Jones at the Scarlets to represent the rugby pedigree we have in Wales. The whole of West Wales will be proud to have provided two members of the party with Matthew Rees, a consistent performer at the highest level, also on the plane.
"The players and the nation will not rest here, the challenge for the boys now is to make that Test side and we will all be willing them on to do so and backing them along with the players from England, Scotland and Ireland to victory against the World Champions on home soil. It's a massive task, probably the ultimate challenge in world rugby, in a best of three series against the World Champions you can only win if you are the better team over the series.
"Teams can win one off games in World Cups and other competitions, but to come out on top in a series like this when a squad is gathered together from a number of nations is against all the odds - but the magic of the Lions is that it's possible and that's what makes the British and Irish Lions tours so very special."
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: "This is a tribute to the talent of all 13 Welsh players and to the tremendous achievements of our national squad. Each player selected for this great honour truly deserves that reward on merit and it is also clear that their attitude and commitment as players has helped win them this honour.
"I know there are many Welsh players who were very close to selection and they must count themselves extremely unlucky to have missed out as their skills are renowned and their reputations deserved. Becoming a Lion is one of the greatest honours for any player and I know the whole of Wales is looking forward to following the progress of the tour and we wish each and every one of the squad members good luck in their endeavours against the World Champions."
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.