The Lions team for the First Test in Durban has now been announced. How does it compare with my original selection from March, before the touring party had even been selected? Well, I've compared below.
I did rather well in getting 11 out of 15 (I've included in my score the two positions where my original selections were injured but their places were filled from my list of second choice contenders). The four I got wrong - Vickery, Heaslip, Stephen Jones and Monye (one of my contenders but not a win for me as my first choice of Shane Williams was available but not selected) - are all choices I would agree with now on the basis of form and availability.
I wish my predictive powers extended to relatively non-trivial matters. Or at least matters that I had a bet on: I put a tenner on Chris Huhne as the next Speaker at excellently long but now totally justified odds.
1. Gethin Jenkins - check
2. Jerry Flannery - Lee Mears. Flannery was injured before the tour started and as Mears was in my list of second choice contenders I've awarded myself this one.
3. Adam Jones - Phil Vickery. Must have been a close decision but fair enough: the Raging Bull has been back to his best form.
4. Alun Wyn Jones - check
5. Paul O'Connell - check
6. Tom Croft - check
7. David Wallace - check. But having seen both him and Martyn Williams play on tour I would now go for the latter.
8. Andy Powell - Jamie Heaslip. Defenders appear to have worked Powell out.
9. Mike Phillips - check.
10. James Hook - Stephen Jones. I would still go for Hook for his unpredictability, but he's injured anyway.
11. Shane Williams - Ugo Monye. I had Monye in my list of contenders but haven't given myself a point here as Williams is available for selection. I think Shane's gone off the boil as defenders have worked him out, as with Powell.
12. Gavin Henson - Jamie Roberts. But Henson was injured before the tour started and Roberts was my second choice so I've awarded myself this one.
13. Brian O'Driscoll - check
14. Tommy Bowe - check
15. Lee Byrne - check
How will this selection do on Saturday? I'm reasonably hopeful. But my biggest doubts stem from the inability of the Lions pack(s) to alter the point of attack through 'pop' passing and controlled use of the rolling maul. They're going to ground too quickly and getting isolated and this has been one of the main reasons for their getting pinged so much at the breakdown. It's also a factor in their not being able to cut loose with the scoring despite having plenty of possession. Without having more dynamism and variety up front, the SA forwards - who are some of the best defenders in the business - may well find it very straightforward to contain the Lions. Let's hope Gatland has some manoeuvres up his sleeve.
There are plenty of grounds for hope, however. The boys are undefeated for a start. And then there is the strange decision not to have the SA squad play over the last few weeks. I may be mistaken but wasn't this one of the reasons for the Boks downfall in 1997 where a battle-hardened Lions caught their opponents a bit cold?