Buoyant Bowe lifts Lions
Cape Town, Saturday evening
Well at least the coaches won't have to linger long over who plays right wing.
If Saturday's narrow win over Western Province confirmed anything, it is that Tommy Bowe will certainly be in the Lions number 14 shirt for next week's first Test in Durban.
Not that there was much doubt. The Ireland wing was already pencilled in to face the Springboks after his superlative display in the second match of the trip, the 74-point mauling of the Golden Lions.
But in the space of six first-half minutes at Newlands, the pencil became ink as the 25-year-old displayed the skills that have transported him into the realms of world-class.
Not only that, they gave the Lions a lascerating edge in attack that could make the difference in ensuring they finish off whatever opportunities come their way against the world champions.
Bowe showed an exquisite sense of timing, balance and power to score his fourth try of the tour in three matches, creating the split-second he needed to catch Rob Kearney's pass and spin away from his opposite number in the same movement.
At a little over 15 stone Bowe is not a heavyweight wing by any means, but he brushed past two more would-be tacklers with ease on his way to the line.
That strength was again evident in his pivotal role in the Lions' second try, darting off his wing and cutting into the line at a precise angle, stepping neatly inside the first man before almost contemptuously bouncing a second out of his path.
The inviting pass he then looped over his tackler's head was meat and drink for Ugo Monye, who had little trouble finishing off his third try of the tour.
"You can see he is playing well," head coach Ian McGeechan said of Bowe. "He is a very strong runner and if there is space, you want players to have that confidence to play."
Certainly Bowe's soaring confidence and self-belief is difficult to escape. Asked on Friday about the possibility of facing Bryan Habana next week, he viewed it as a "great challenge" but hardly sounded daunted by the prospect.
"If I get picked for the Lions Test team then I feel I am good enough to come up against anyone," he said. Quite.
But if Bowe is a dead cert, McGeechan still has difficult decisions to make elsewhere after Saturday's stop-start performance.
"It has given us some serious thought selection-wise," he admitted. "There are going to be some tough calls in a number of positions."
Monye was far from perfect on Saturday, in some of his defensive and kicking duties, but probably did enough to join Bowe and Lee Byrne in a Test back three that would give the Lions plenty of options in attack.
Riki Flutey failed to present a case for dislodging Jamie Roberts as Brian O'Driscoll's centre partner, so the only other decision to make in the backs is at fly-half, with Mike Phillips a shoo-in at scrum-half.
His familiarity with Stephen Jones may help to sway the stand-off vote the Welshman's way, although his display on Saturday did not ward off the need for a discussion.
McGeechan felt the tactical kicking "could have been better at times" and that the Lions "probably tried to play too much rugby in our own half" and "needed to be a bit more patient".
While that was not entirely down to Jones, with full-back Kearney and Monye also predominantly opting to use the boot in difficult conditions, the fly-half invariably sets the tone in terms of strategy.
While Ronan O'Gara is not entirely without hope, James Hook also made another case for his inclusion in the Test 22 with his composure to land the winning penalty.
Having missed a long-range effort with 11 minutes left, Hook - 24 on the day of the second Test - showed no hesitation in accepting a second invitation to save the Lions' bacon.
"He took the decision out of my hands really," said Martyn Williams, captain for the final quarter after Phil Vickery's departure. "He just said 'no problem, butt'".
Williams could also take satisfaction from his return after a shoulder injury - "not bad for an old man" quipped McGeechan when asked about the flanker's display - and David Wallace will not be feeling quite so secure about the number seven jersey.
Elsewhere in the back row, Joe Worsley tackled hard as you'd expect, had a couple of charges on the crash ball and remains in the frame for at least a place on the bench.
Andy Powell's powerful run and offload initiated the opening try, but on other occasions his direct approach again foundered in contact.
Further forward Vickery remains a live candidate, if not a stone-cold favourite, for the tight-head berth, while Andrew Sheridan again scrummaged well but was less visible around the field - a familiar refrain - than Gethin Jenkins, who remains favourite for the loose-head role.
Lock Nathan Hines was a force in the tight exchanges, but was not used in the line-out, where every Lions throw - and one of Western Province's - was claimed by Donncha O'Callaghan.
The Munster man had a solid enough outing but could find that like a few others, he may be asked to back up on Tuesday in the final warm-up match, selection for which will surely be a sign that a starting place against the Springboks in Durban is off the menu.
While the Lions could take comfort in the efficiency of their finishing and the way they snatched victory from the jaws of a potentially demoralising defeat or draw, McGeechan was quick to point out the reality of what we have seen so far.
"Whatever warm-up games we would have got, they are not Test matches," he added in response to a question about the standard of opposition the Lions have faced.
"You know when you get to next Saturday, it is going to be a different level."
If the rest of the Lions can match Bowe's current level, they are not without hope.
The preliminaries are nearly over. The real business is almost upon is.