Roll of the dice: Harry Ellis of Leicester has been selected for potential rather than form

FOR some reason, it seems to have been accepted over the past few days that the principle criterion for Lions selection was form. That somehow the players who performed well towards the end of the Six Nations, and then those who caught the eye in recent weeks were the ones who were rewarded. Not true, but then that's never been the way of the Lions.

Form was on the agenda, however, it's abundantly clear from the make-up of the squad that it was one of several criteria, and not the be-all and end-all.

For all the wisdom and experience that Ian McGeechan has in the bank when it comes to these tours, much of what was announced last Tuesday was more educated hunch than anything else.

How can he be sure that Keith Earls, Matthew Rees, Stephen Ferris and Andy Powell, for example, will return home from South Africa with enhanced reputations? Like the rest of us crossing our fingers that the world champions will be given a serious run for their money, McGeechan is only hoping he's right.

If almost every team selection is open to question by every hurler on the ditch, then what chance is there of consensus when 37 names are suddenly on the table? Equally, the coach has gone with his instinct in his choice of captain, but what certainty is there that Paul O'Connell will lead this disparate group with the style and ruthlessness that has made him such a success with Munster?

While he undoubtedly learned from his own, and from the team's, underwhelming performances during the 2005 series in New Zealand, a Lions tour is the ultimate trip outside the comfort zone. O'Connell is odds-on to deliver on and off the pitch, but there is no guarantee that he will make a better captain than Brian O'Driscoll.

Similar uncertainty surrounds the way the players will gel. Because of the cult status attained by the fly-on-the-wall documentary of the 1997 tour, it seems now to be accepted that the tourists go about their business as if they're on an expenses-paid weekend in a wellness centre.

There hasn't been much evidence to date of cordial relations between, say, Mike Phillips and the Irish contingent, and the last time that O'Driscoll got up close and personal with his new teammate, Riki Flutey, in the closing minutes at Croke Park, the England centre looked like he was trying to decapitate him.

So, even if parts of the sum appear to be what's required for a challenge which will make or break a few players, there's no way of knowing just yet whether a team – chosen intuitively rather than scientifically – which has never trained together and never played together, will be good enough to knock the world champions off their perch.

As for form, the a la carte nature of the selection demonstrates that McGeechan looked, then listened to what Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards, Rob Howley and Graham Rowntree were telling him, before following his gut.

Form was clearly relevant in a positive sense when it came to choosing Earls, Ugo Monye and Alan Quinlan. Although Earls had been on the radar, he forced McGeechan's hand with a couple of outstanding performances against Leinster and the Ospreys. Ditto Munster's dark destroyer, Quinlan, while Monye impressed for Harlequins with his pace and power. On the negative side, Ryan Jones lost his way in the past couple of months and was made to pay for it.

Those form selections fly in the face of other decisions. Rob Kearney was educated at Clongowes, but not even the most persuasive Jesuit could argue that Ireland's full-back had a better Six Nations than Delon Armitage. The feeling was that Earls and Quinlan were lucky to have made the cut, however, Kearney might have been the most fortunate of all the 14 Irish players.

Neither Harry Ellis nor Powell have been starting on a regular basis for Leicester and Cardiff respectively, so it's hard to fathom how their selections could have been based on form. And if you were to compile a list of players who have made a big impression this year, you almost certainly wouldn't be including the likes of Shane Williams, Phillips, Matthew Rees, Phil Vickery or Nathan Hines.

And if you were looking for a suitable captain, you would probably go for the vastly experienced player who had just led his country to an historic Grand Slam. But the Lions is not like that. McGeechan has an idea of who and what he wants, yet all it is at the moment is an idea.

He clearly sees the need to match the Springboks up front. Simon Shaw, Hines, Joe Worsley, Ferris and Quinlan are not in the squad for their good looks, and the emphasis on players who relish trench warfare has came as bad news for the more athletic forwards such as Tom Croft and Nick Kennedy.

With two out-halves in Ronan O'Gara and Stephen Jones who are more perceptive game managers than attackers, it seems as if the plan might be to kick the ball in behind the South Africans in an effort to force them to play out of their 22.

In selecting as many Munster as England representatives, McGeechan hasn't so much gone in for a style of play, as a state of mind. As ever, the Lions are peppered with talent, but they will get nowhere without the sort of self-belief that has raised Munster above every other side in Europe.

If Clive Woodward set out for New Zealand four years ago with a test line-up in mind, it's doubtful if the same applies this time. The players will be energised by the knowledge that right now only O'Driscoll, Gethin Jenkins, O'Connell and David Wallace would be sure of their places for the critical first test in Durban on 20 June.

On the one hand, genuine competition for places is a positive, but on the other, this Lions squad lacks a hard core.

Views on Lions Selcection From The OTher Countries And The Hosts

Peter De Villiers (South Africa Coach)

"I'm surprised that Paul O'Connell got the captaincy ahead of Brian O'Driscoll, who was the most successful captain in the recent Six Nations and who captained the Lions to New Zealand four years ago."

Warren Gatland (right, Wales head coach and Lions forwards coach)

"There is no favouritism. Selection is not about captains or countries. The squad has been picked on form, and Ryan [Jones] is not playing well enough at the moment. I hope he'll take his disappointment on the chin and I'm sure he'll continue to work hard."

Jim Telfer (Lions assistant coach 1997)

"It's very, very disappointing for the game in Scotland because you can learn a lot from Lions tours, but we have no coaches involved in the tour and just two players and that's not great. But the fact is, that's where we are at this moment – down at the bottom of the pecking order."

Brian Moore (Former England and Lions hooker)

"There are four or five choices I could argue with, but only the exclusion of England's Delon Armitage and Tom Croft would see me debate with vehemence."

Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports commentator)

"It seems the gamble is to go for brains and brawn over subtlety and extreme skill. The balance has gone too far one way for my comfort, but if the know-how of the Munstermen guide the Lions to blunting victory we will worship the art of heroic defence as so many did in 1997."

Richard Cockerill (Leicester coach)

"You hope Tom [Croft] might get an opportunity to go out and show what he can do. I believe he's one of the world's best players in what he does. It's a little bit of a shame, but he's young enough to go on the next one."